Syria 1989

Syria is not what you could call a tourist hot spot. With a long standing reputation as a brutally repressive regime that lends support to various terrorist organizations , Syria just wouldn’t strike most people as a nice place to visit. Of course right now there’s a bloody civil war taking place in Syria so it’s most definitely off limits presently. Politics aside, I can only say that I really enjoyed my stay there which was long before the war now underway.

With the almost complete lack of foreign visitors I felt as if I had the place to myself. On top of that, I found the people there to be friendly and they were often quite curious about me as a Westerner. Because there were practically no tourists there was a very refreshing lack of hustlers looking to cajole a few bucks from naive visitors. Nobody was interested in over-charging me or treating me as a walking wallet. After a month in Egypt I really appreciated that.

Despite it being a police state, or maybe because of it being a police state, the country felt quite free of crime. My Lonely Planet guide book described Syria as being safe enough to leave your bags unattended in a bus station without worrying about them disappearing. And my sense was that was probably true. Obviously that’s all changed now.

I really enjoyed my visit to the ancient walled city of Tartus on the Mediterranean coast of the country. The narrow alleyways were very atmospheric. I photographed some kids on the street there. I wonder how things are going for them now.

Aleppo in northern Syria was famous for its huge old souk, the Arabic word for marketplace. I loved wondering around and looking at the exotic goods for sale. It’s all in ruins now. Will it be gone forever?

As with any country in the Middle East, Syria had a number of very good ancient historic sites. This includes what was a very well preserved Crusader castle called the Krac des Chevaliers near the village of Hosn. I visited the Krac des Chevalier with one of the few backpackers I met in Syria and was impressed with its state of preservation. Anti government rebels seized the castle during the current conflict and the Syrian regime bombarded it with artillery.

When I visited the ancient ruined city of Palmyra I found the site deserted. The only people there that day were local Bedouins tending their sheep and goats. It was a rather well preserved site dating from Roman times. As I write this in 2015, the gentle folk of ISIS are systematically blowing it up. Along with the horrid toll of human life lost in Syria, the country’s historic heritage is being devastated as well.

 

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