see the Omayyad Mosque. Even...
see the Omayyad Mosque. Even though it is fast becoming a busy tourist site, it is still very impressive. My Muslim friends have described praying there as being something like an exhibit in a zoo though...and watch out for pickpockets and shoe snatchers!
Another mosque often missed by tourists is the Sayyida Ruqqaya, just around the corner from the coffeehouses next to the Omayyad Mosque(just follow the hordes of elderly Iranian pilgrims). It is a fairly new mosque financed by the Iranian government, and contains the shrine of Ruqqaya, the grand-daughter of Hussain (correct me if this is wrong!). Women need to cover their hair(not with a plastic bag, as some tourists have tried!), and you will be given a brown cloak to wear inside. In the Omayyad Mosque, it is best to carry your shoes inside with you (you might have noticed the shoe stalls just outside - hmmm...wonder where they get them from?!!!) - don't put them on the floor though! In Sayyida Ruqqaya, there is a counter where you can swap your shoes for a ticket. Inside, men should follow the men, and women should follow the women, as the shrine area is segregated. The food - I used to eat with the family I lived with, it was not the sort of stuff found on restaurant menus. Syrian food has a reputation of being rather boring and bland, but I suppose this must be Syrian restaurant food.
Another photo of the Omayyad...
Another photo of the Omayyad mosque. The language school I was studying at took us here on a school outing, and our teacher showed us things we would otherwise have missed, like the tomb of Hussain(I think), and also told us that the mosaics in this mosque contain more colours than any Greek mosaics.
Women observe strict rules...
Women observe strict rules about dress, but nobody ask you, woman, to cover your body from head to foot , unless you are going to visit the Great Mosque. Just few meters from the main entrance there’s a small office were women can (well, they “must”) hire the “brown clothes”. Although I hate brown, I was comfortable in that stuff; I didn’t feel “out of it” like sometimes happens..
Daytrip to Maalula
Maalula is situated about 50 km north of Damascus and can easily be visited on a daytrip, also including Seidnayya.
It is a charming little village in a narrow valley with light blue and yellow houses below the cliffs. Here you can visit the Convent of St Thecla. St Thecla was one of the first Christian martyrs and above the convent you will find her tomb, and a well of healing water. Above the village is the Monastery of St Serkis, where you will find an altar probably used already during pagan times and many nice icons. Take a walk through the siq, a canyon cut out of the rock by water. And stroll around in the quiet village.
Maalula is most famous as the place where Aramaic is spoken. Aramaic is the language Jesus was speaking and in which some scripts were written.
Buses to Maalula leave Damascus from Maalula garage (for more detiled information see the transportation tips).
There are several museums and...
There are several museums and monuments which are not on many tourist itineraries. My language school took us to many of them in a clapped out old bus. First, we went to the 'Panorama', which was described to us as being 'very beautiful', but other than that we were left in the dark until we got there. It is a huge monument to the Arab Wars against Israel, and is filled with propagandist items. It is interesting that the impressive Syrian tanks face some decrepit Israeli ones across the courtyard. The highlight, though, is the revolving auditorium in the roof, which houses a display of Quneitra (the town in the Golan which the Israelis destroyed before handing it back to Syria) complete with battle cries and an incomprehensible commentary in Arabic. You have to make a booking to visit this, which costs ordinary tourists US$10, but us students went for nothing. You have to take a tour of the building, and there seem to be at least 3 guides per person. However, if you ask any questions, they won't be answered, as all the guides seem to know are the dimensions of the building. You can see the 'Panorama' from the bus which takes you to the main bus station in north-eastern Damascus.
Another trip was to the Assad Library, but I skived this trip. A friend who went wanted to look at the books, but again the tour was mainly to show off the building, not it's contents.
Just before the suburb of Dummar is a huge monument to the 'Unknown Soldier' with an eternal flame (it was out when I went). There is a museum underground, but is only open to pre-booked tours on Wednesdays at 4pm, and I have no idea how to book a tour.