While not quite as famous as Alliance Française or the Goethe Institut, the Iranian government does indeed fund cultural centres intended to promote the culture, language and foreign policy of the Islamic Republic. These are generally targetted to cities in which they are most effective: in addition to Damascus, I've seen one in Sarajevo as well. They have a small bookstore that sells all manner of books about Iran and its culture, or about world events as they are seen by the Iranian establishment. There are also offices in which diplomats work, presumably to promote bilateral understanding and an appreciation of Iranian culture. I was particularly impressed by the tilework on the building, which is quite typical of Iranian designs. The centre is located just off of Merjeh Square.
I understand that the Four Seasons Hotel is probably better placed under the Hotels section, but I did not stay at the hotel, and thus wouldn't be able to provide the sort of information that is usually required of such tips. The Four Seasons, nevertheless, serves as a bit of a guide for anyone coming to the city, and together with the Sheraton, it forms the basis of the international hotels available. The Four Season is undoubtedly in a far better neighbourhood and has much better services in it and around it than the Sheraton does. It is also when the high-level visitors often stay when they come to the city, which means that it must be quite good for people watching.
During Europe's Dark Ages - when the learning and knowledge of the Roman and Greek areas was lost to the ignorance of theocracy and war - the Arab World became the repository of scientific knowledge that had been cultivated over millennia in the Mediterranean basin. Arab translated texts from Greek and Latin into Arabic and expanded upon them, greatly enriching the disciplines of chemistry, medicine, physics, biology, astronomy and mathematics. This learning was well-known in European circles, and many of the philosophers and scientists who participated in this era of great intellectual advancement were famous in Europea as well as the Arab World. I did not have the opportunity to visit the Museum of Arab Medicine and Science (it was closed on Friday), but I would imagine that it contains a fair amount of information regarding this aspect of Arab-European quasi-cooperation for the good of humanity. It is located in the vicinity of the Azm Palace.
It is estimated that there are over ten million people in Latin America who claim heritage from what might be called "Greater Syria": the lands of the Levant that are today split between Syria proper and Lebanon. The vast majority of these people are Catholics who migrated for economic reasons to the New World, and they have become very much integrated into society and the establishment. Famous descendants include Shakira, the Colombian popstar (who is half Lebanese) and Carlos Menem, the former President of Argentina, who was of Syrian origin. In recognition of the deep ties that link Syria, Lebanon and Argentina, a monument was erected in the intersection of Argentina and Brazil streets, in the upscale area of Damascus behind the Four Seasons. It is a recent monument that commemorates the 1810 declaration of Independece of Argentina, and was inaugurated by current President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, in May 2010.
I will readily admit that I have no idea what this particular house is or who built it, but I can see, from what is available of the inscription over the door, that it was inaugurated in 1924, which would mean that the building was opened while Damascus was under French occupation, following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. The buidling took my fancy, as it is an obvious example of the manner in which Damascene traditional architecture was still viewed as having intrinsic aesthetic value by a colonizer who was fond of exporting its own cultural and architectural products. I am not certain that visitors are allowed into the complex (it was closed both day and night), but at the very least pictures of the façade are permitted, and it does help to brighten up the otherwise grimy Nasser Street
Malik Faisal Street is what the French call a "quartier populaire" or a working class neighbourhood. Nevertheless, it is an interesting window into the lives of average Damascenes, as its markets lack the historical sheen or the opulence of some of the ones you will find inside the old city. The shops are traditional, but in another vein of tradition, and the people here are more likely to ignore tourists than to see them as a source of income.
Poetry occupies a very important place in Arab culture. It, not the novel or the epic, is the repository of Arab literary tradition, and Arab poets have created a canon of forms and styles that are well-known and well-studied throughout the Arab World. I'm not aware of the Arab Poetry Institute occupying an important role in the Arab World, and certainly there is a lot of competition from Qatar and its attempts to achieve cultural dominance. Nevertheless, the institute caught my fancy, not least because of its elaborate sign.
Outside Damascus lie Maalula, one of the few really pretty villages in Syria. the name means entrance. The village crawl up a hillside and have partially steep traillike streets. Parts of the place are timeless, you have a feeling of beeing in the antiquity, and the language spoken here are arameic, not arabic. Therefore Maalula is promoted as the place where the language of Jesus are spoken. Above the village itself, reached along a spectacular but sadly partially grafitticovered gorge, uou can visit the ancient Deir Mar Sarkis, a monastery dating back to the 4th century.
In the bible the Apostle Paul was send to the house of Ananias in Damascus to await recovering of his sight. The bible says to "go to the street called Straight Street to the House of Ananias.
Well, the street isn't exactly straight, maybe it leads straight TO somewhere, I don't know.
Nevertheless, the house the Apostle Paul visited and stayed in, is indeed there in Damascus. Bab Sharqi (East Gate Street), is the modern name for this famous street.
The first thing you will notice, is the level of the streets in Damascus have raised alot in the last 2,000 years. The rooms in the house of Ananias which were on the ground floor in Pauls time are now in the basement!!
Most visitors don't notice the small botanical garden on the opposite river bank to the Citadel. It is one of the prettiest spots in Damascus and free to visit.
This city and wonderfull mosque are just 12km far from Damascus. Zeynep is granddoughter of Mohammed. Woman has to wear black cover again! But this mosque worth of it.
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