Mar 15, 2011

Syria - Palmyra/Damascus

We headed toward the centre of the Syrian desert. Palmyra, known as "the bride of the desert", is located in the Tadmor oasis. On the caravan routes between the Mediterranean Sea and Persia, Palmyra prospered during more than four centuries. The end of this florishing city in 274 is linked with the destiny of its heroic Queen Zenobia. 

This queen stretched Palmyra's kingdom to the South of Egypt and the Bosphorus. Her success threatened the Roman empire and the Emperor Aurelian raised an army to march upon Palmyra. The city was destroyed and Queen Zenobia taken prisonner. The great kingdom never manage to get off the ground after this defeat.

View of the old city from the citadel

Nowadays Palmyra's old town comes down to the monumental ruins of a theatre and the great colonnade (a one kilometre long street with columns) linking the temple of Bel and Zenobia's palace. Parts of some other temples are still visible. A lot of stones and colums lost in the middle of the desert.. 

Tadmor oasis

The great colonnade

The citadel on the left, 
the tetrapilon in the middle and the great colonnade on the right

The theatre

Other places of interest: the three brothers tomb famous for its painting of Achiles and the citadel to admire the sunset. For the bravest, we have heard that the sunrise is fantastic but it is at 5am with a one hour walk to climb to the citadel... ;)

Tombs valley

In front of the three brothers tomb


When we left Palmyra, we were caught in our first sand storm!! Very impressive and so dusty that we had the taste of sand in our mouths! To see the sand dancing in the streets is simply unforgetable. The sand is so thin that it goes everywhere.


Our tour in Syria ended with a couple of days in the great Damascus. Most of the touristical attractions of the capital are located inside the old town's walls. Damascus' old town has a crazy atmosphere with narrow streets, building standing only god knows how and a lot of people everywhere. On the main streets, every door opens to a shop, a hotel or a restaurant.

Spices and sweets souk

Behind the crapy facades of the old town still remain a few wonderful palaces like one can imagine in its oriental dreams. Azem palace became the national museum of the Arts and Popular Traditions. So its visit is a double win: we could admire the magnificence of its decoration and architecture and also learn about local craft, domestic lifestyle and customs.

Umayyad mosque is an imposing complexe which hosts the shrine of John the Baptist (Prophet Yehia to Muslims). It is said to be one the most impressive and beautiful mosque, a source of inspiration for many architects. The prayer hall and the courtyard are richely and glittery decorated!

  Prayer hall

Next to this mosque, the mausoleum of Saladin (Salah ad-Din):


A-Sayyda Ruqayya Mosque is named after a little girl, Say'yeda Roqayya, who died of sadness after having seen the cutted head of her dead father. Her tomb is an object of devotion. Men and women – in two seperate areas – touch, kiss the railings surrounding the shrine and also rub their scarves or clothes against the railings. Those scenes are kind of impressive and moving.



After twenty days in Syria and Jordan, we got used to the practice of this region: wild trafic, zero respect for the pedestrians, bargaining for every price from shampoo to taxi ride, etc. Concretely, the prices of food and public transportation are far less expensive than in Europe.
Below the train tickets we bought for a two hours trip from Aleppo to Hama. It does not matter we do not understand what is written on the ticket.. We paid only 2,20 euros!! This second class ticket is normally 1,50 euros each. But Luis paid only one euro with its student discount and for Axelle they justified her discount with her height?!? :) We still have no clue where that second discount comes from... And those train are not bad at all!

Train tickets

Last but not least, on our crazy journey from Damascus to Iran, we had to change flight in Sharjah.. mmh.. We spent the whole flight wondering in which country we would land! Having no idea of the country, we could not guess its time zone nore the duration of the flight...We also met strange winged passagers in the boarding queue.. 
In the boarding queue

Behind our seats on the plane

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