Reasons to Visit
Damascus claims to be the longest continually inhabited place on earth, and this sense of history pervades the city. Aleppo is almost as ancient, dominated by her brooding Mamluke citadel, whilst further down the Euphrates Valley, Mari is one of only a handful of extant Mesopotamian cities.
At times, it seems impossible to walk 500 yards in Syria without tripping over the remnants of one of the many ancient civilisations to have held sway in Syria. The country probably has one of the highest concentrations of historic monuments in the world and this is one of the major draws for most people.
As you'd expect of a country on so many major trade and pilgrimage routes, the years of conquest and counter-conquest have left a rich tapestry of fortifications across the country. Crusader architecture in particular reached its zenith here and there are some superb examples to explore.
The walled heart of all major towns and cities, the medina normally houses a number of attractions, from museums, mosques and monuments, to the souqs and traditional townhouses converted to boutique hotels and restaurants.
The National Museums in Aleppo and Damascus should definitely feature in your plans. Not only are they home to many fantastic artefacts from across the country, but they also help put the whole of your visit to Syria into its historical context.
Syria's souqs are probably the most rewarding in the region, selling goods almost exclusively for the locals, manufactured in Syria, rather than cheap foreign imports. The atmosphere is always exotic and unthreatening, making shopping a real pleasure.
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North Africa & the Middle East
Aleppo's historic position as a trading crossroads has given the it a cosmopolitan air, from the ancient churches of the Christian quarter to the imposing edifice of the Arab citadel that dominates the city.
Aleppine history is credibly testified as going back to the third millennium BC and it has always been an important centre for trade. Merchants from across the region have, over the centuries, built up some of the most enjoyable and exotic souqs in the Middle East.
Stretching for over ten miles, they are clustered around old khans and caravanserais, where merchants dealing in similar goods could find accommodation and space to sell their wares.
This historic position as a trading crossroads has given the city a cosmopolitan air, from the ancient churches of the Christian quarter to the imposing edifice of the Arab citadel that dominates the city.
From the minaret of the Citadel Mosque, the entire city is spread out below you. Standing clear of the rooftops, the Grand, or Umayyad, Mosque is as prominent as the mosque of the same name in Damascus; built by the same man, it is equally impressive.
A 47 metre high minaret watches over worshippers as they go about their prayers, or cluster in the courtyard to catch up with one another.
For those who have visited or who are going to visit sites such as Ugarit and Mari, a few hours at the National Museum in Aleppo is highly recommended as many of the finds from these places can be viewed here.
A Christian holy man of the 5th century AD, Simeon had tried all manner of mortification to get closer to God, including spiked girdles and burial whilst alive. To escape a rapidlygrowing band of admirers he elected to live atop a series of progressively taller columns.
His fame continued to grow, and upon his death an undignified struggle broke out for his relics. Today the remains of the enormous Byzantine church complex that grew to service his pilgrims surround the stump of his final, 18 metre-high column.
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Further reading:Tours in SyriaWhen to GoHighlightsItinerary IdeasPlaces to GoThings to DoAccommodationAbout SyriaCountry Guides
Other countries in North Africa & the Middle East:EgyptIranJordanLebanonLibyaMoroccoOmanTunisia
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