The Silk Road, China

Wednesday, 11 April 2007

Damascus - "Salaam 'alakum'

With a claim to be one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world with significance to the Silk Roads (connecting Babylon with the Phoenician ports such as Tripoli), Damascus is a good starting point for this journey.

The drive from the airport sets the scene for any contemporary Middle Eastern city - flat roofs, satellite dishes, hectic roads and what little Latin script there is on the billboards dissolving rapidly into Arabic.

But the heart of Damascus - the old town - is far from ordinary. Entering via a covered souk, you are confronted by an amazingly powerful array of smells: spices, perfume and apple tobacco. The remainder of the old town is a maze of narrow, irregular streets with ancient houses sometimes appearing on the verge of toppling over. The only large open spaces are the huge marble courtyard of the Umayyad Mosque and the stonework of the Azem palace.

The Syrian welcome (salaam alakum in Arabic) was a warm one. I arrived the day before Chris and a single stroll through the old town resulted in tea and a chat with one stall owner and greeting another two by name when we returned the following day. Normally these conversations tend inevitably towards the sale, but on this occasion it was me who eventually felt duty bound to talk about what was in the shop.

When Chris arrived we explored the Old Town further, before meeting James (Carty) for lunch, who had come over from Beirut. (Joining him for a couple of weeks on his epic journey last year was one of the reasons I decided to do this trip - see Why entry)

After some delicious mezze washed down with a fresh lemon and mint drink we bid him farewell and continued to explore the bustling night food market. Damascus had been the perfect introduction to the Silk Road.

JM

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