Straight Street was the main east-west Roman road or Decumanus Maximus through the city, and was named Via Recta. Today its western half is named Sharia Medhat Pasha, after an Ottoman ruler, while its eastern half is called Sharia Bab as-Sharqi, which means Eastern Gateway Street. It was this street along which, according to the Bible, God commanded Ananias to walk in order to meet Saul aka St. Paul and cure him of his blindness. "The Lord told him, 'Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.' " Acts 9: 23-25.
The most famous street in Damascus runs right across the southern half of the Old City, from Bab al-Jabiye in the west to Bab as-Sharqi in the east. Part of it is covered and resembles Souq al Hamidiyya, which runs parallel to it, four blocks to the north. The eastern section, running through the Christian quarter, is mostly an uncovered street, dotted with interesting Roman ruins and ancient churches.
It used to be lined with colonnades, of which two columns, just inside Bab as-Sharqi, are still standing. A Roman Arch marks the exact spot where the Decumanus Maximus intersected with the main north-south Roman road through the city, the Cardo Maximus.
Visit a Hammam
Visiting a hammam is most probably something you should try to do while in Damascus. There are several to choose from in the old city.
Syria does have some beautiful hammams. It is authentic, clean and not expensive.
They usually have a price list at the entrance, where you can see exactly what it will cost you, including admission, soap, wash, shampoo, massage, drinks etc.
You can take your own soap and shampoo if you wish to do so.
There are different ‘rooms or areas’ which vary in temperature. Some steam rooms can be VERY hot.
Average price for the full ‘menu’ could be between 400 – 600 SYP. It is generally expected to leave a tip for the guys helping around with the towels, tea etc.
Hammam Nureddine is located at Souk el-Bzouriyeh, close to Khan Assad Pasha – go here for a good experience. It is clean and service is good.
Torch lights or candles
Winter can see temperature dropping below zero. Bring some warm clothing if you are traveling in winter. Better have a torch light or some candles (with lighters) handy. The electricity supply in Syria is notoriously unreliable. Daily power cuts upto few hours are very common during winter and summer.
Malula is a tiny (pop. 2000) village on the slopes of the Anti-Lebanon mountain range. It's about 50 minutes away from Damascus, so it's the perfect location for a day trip. What's so special about it is that most of the houses are painted in light blue tones - very characteristic - and that the population doesn't speak Arabic but Aramean, the language of Jesus. There are also two fascinating monasteries (Deir Mar Sarkis and Deir Mar Takla) linked by a natural siq. Both monasteries - and this is what I liked best - attract visitors and pilgrims both Christian and Muslim: a wonderful example of how religions can live side by side, in mutual respct and integration. For more information please see my Ma'lula's page.
Exit the old city from the...
Exit the old city from the west side, using Straight Street, cross the busy main road, and look out for a small archway on the left...suddenly you'll be plunged into narrow lanes and never-ending food souqs. The old houses are crumbling down, the pavements are uneven, dust is everywhere, but this is real Damascus. Very few tourists (if any) discover this area, and it is like entering another world. It is certainly not geared up to foreign visitors, as this is one of the main souqs for local shopping. If you're looking for camel steaks carved from freshly severed heads, delicious tamarind juice served in a semi-clean glass, and odd-looking fruit and vegetables that you never knew existed, then this is the place to come. If you're not faint-hearted (in windy weather, it becomes quite a challenge to avoid bumping into a swinging carcass!) and can handle a fair amount of litter, then you can easily spend a couple of hours exploring this little known corner of the city. When I remember the name, I'll let you know!