NEW SERIES: PLACES WHERE OUR CIVILIZATION STARTED
Syria is a land of fertile plains, high mountains and vast deserts. It is situated in the Middle East, bordering on the Mediterranean Sea. Nowadays it is well known for the ongoing civil war, which has left deep scars on the face of this, former prosperous, state.
During its long history it was conquered many times. The famous Battle of Kadesh, between the army of Ramses II and the Hittite Kingdom was fought here in the year 1296 BC, on the Orontes river. The Silk Road led through its territory. It remembers Alexander the Great, the Romans and the Persians, as well as the Crusaders. Islam was introduced by Arabs, in 640 AD.
The latest conflict in this region began on March 15, 2011. Syria is not safe for tourists, however, it was a wonderful place to visit, in the past. Here are some of the sights which used to be visited by many tourists.
CRAC DES CHEVALIERS
A medieval castle built by the Crusader knights in the 12th century. It is one of the best-preserved medieval castles in the world, and thus recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. The castle is located approximately 25 miles west of the City of Holms, close to the border of Lebanon. It was partially damaged in the Syrian civil war, but in the year 2014 it was recaptured by the Government forces and since then reconstruction works had begun.
Second biggest city in Syria. Sunni Muslims, most of them Arabs, Kurds and Turkomans, live here, together with a large community of Christians. It became an important city of the Hellenistic period, as well as a trading post. It was even conquered by Mongols. Then came the plague, and it was attacked by Timur in the year 1400 AD. Now it houses almost 2 million people. The city is heavily damaged during the civil war, and many thousands of inhabitants fled from it.
The capital of Syria, used to be a thriving metropole, situated between mountains and sea. Now, as result of the civil war, it is a gray mass of rubble and demolished buildings. Not only the war, but also modern development plans threatened this ancient city. In the past it had a wealth of historic sites to offer to tourists. Some of them were the Citadel of Damascus, the Damascus Straight Street (Via Recta), now called Bab Sharqi street, full of small shops, the old Christian quarter of Bab Tuma (Gate of Thomas), the Souk, the House of Saint Ananias – an underground chapel and the Grand Mosque of Damascus.
An ancient archeological site, situated north-east of Damascus. It was established during the 3rd century BC, near a fertile oasis. It became the leading city of the Near East, an important post on the Silk Road, a crossroad of several civilizations. The Hebrew Bible mentions it as the City of Tadmor, built by the King Solomon. The splendor of the ruins of Palmyra was also recognized as an UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is famous for its Great Colonnade, the Temple of Bel, the Agora and the Theatre. It also has sculptures of Greco-Roman art, with some Persian artistic influences. The name of Zenobia, the third century queen of the Palmyrene Empire, still echoes through the city ruins, adding to its charm and mystery. Now heavily damaged, it waits for the reconstruction carried out by the international community.
This great culture also produced a Semitic language, Syriac, still spoken today.
The question remains, how can people protect the universal values of our civilization? The destruction of the cultural heritage leads to the downfall of mankind. Stop it! We still have HOPE.
Cover: Great Umayyad Mosque of Damascus ( photo: islamic-arts.org)