In November 2009 I was living and working in the Arabian Gulf State of Qatar. My wife and I had travelled to various parts of the Middle East and we had very good reports from others who had visited Syria. The Middle East is a vast area; just as an example, Doha to Damascus is 1,700kms, whereas London to Rome is 1,400kms.
Even though there was no conflict taking place in Syria at the time- this was 15 months before the war commenced- we still had to apply for special visas for our visit and had to ensure that we had no stamps from ‘Occupied Palestine’ (Israel) on our passports. Our travel agents in Doha organised the visa aspect as well as all of our bookings. They also ensured that we had a top class guide, which was essential. We had an individual guide just for the two of us, as we were not on a package tour but rather a specifically designed and organised one.
When we arrived in Damascus, our guide met us and took our passports and we were then ushered through passport control. In Damascus we stayed at the Talisman Hotel which is not far from Straight Street, famous from the story of St. Paul “Arise, and go into the street which is called called Straight”.
On our way back from a restaurant just off Straight Street on our first night we came across this street parade. It was not clear what this was, although somebody suggested it could have been associated with a wedding.(below)
On our first full day in Damascus, we went to the church where St. Paul was baptised. We were then brought to near the old Damascus Bab Kisan Gate which is now the site of St Paul’s Church. The old gate is said to be where St. Paul was lowered in a basket to escape from the city. (below)
Damascus is a city where different religions could, usually, co-exist side by side. Islam is, of course, the main religion in Syria and we were brought to the Grand (Umayyad) Mosque of Damascus. (below, top left) All around the mosque, there were wonderful architectural details. (below, top right) We also visited a covered market (souq) where we saw some shops and stalls selling exotic produce. (below, bottom)