If Damascus is one of the oldest cities in the world – if not the oldest city in the world – one would expect it to have a considerably old souq. Damascus does not disappoint whatever the visitor’s expectation might be in this regard. Al-Hamidiya Souq is a massive complex, teeming with merchants selling everything imaginable, as well as restaurants and sweet shops that cater to traditional tastes (such as the ice cream shop Bakdash). Of course, many of these stores, at least before the outbreak of unrest and the civil war, had an eye to the tourists came in from Europe and North America, but their main clients continued to be Syrians and the hordes of Iranian tourists who came for religious pilgrimage and stayed for the shopping. Al-Hamidiya may have a covered arcade that is similar to shopping areas in Paris or Brussels, but it is in fact a remnant of Ottoman rule, despite incorporating older architectural features, such as the Ruins of the Jupiter Temple.
The largest and most popular market in Damascus. Located just beside the citadel, ending in the large Umayyad Mosque plaza entrance. The market is full of people and shops that sells anything from foodstuff to clothing. I passed by here just for the ambience.
This souk is similar to but smaller than that in Istanbul. The main section is devoted mainly to clothes, especially for women, There are shops for tablecloths and decorated table mats, sheesha pipes, toys and a myriad other things. Light filters down from the roof or from side streets.
It can be very crowded, but also great for people watching. The drink sellers in their fez and bright garments are photo-shy which is a pity as they are so colourful.
At the end on the market is a courtyard with some ancient pillars and then the entrance to the Omayyad Mosque.
We were not tempted to buy anything.
This massive souk seems to be the main thoroughfare into the old city, as it ends on a square at the Umayyad Mosque. It is not the most exciting of the Damascus souks, but still a great place to stroll. It is always busy.
Mostly textiles and clothing are sold here, although there are also some souvenir shops.
There are many touts approaching you with invitations to their shops, located in other souks or areas.
Since ancient times, Damascus has been known as a commercial centre due to its strategic position at the end of the southern caravan routes traversing through Arabia and Africa. As a result, it developed a large market (called "souk") which has become the focus of daily Damascene life. The souk is in fact divided into several adjacent souks, each sometimes specialising in a different product (silk, spices, etc.), though over time, this feature became less pronounced. The most famous is called Souk Al-Hamidiyya, which runs just south of the Citadel from the western city wall to the Roman Propylaea and the Omayyad Mosque. Others include Souk al-Bzouriya (spices, nuts), Souk al-Harir (silk), Souk Midhat Pacha, and Souk al-Attarin (perfumes). These souks tend to be covered to shelter shoppers from summer heat. When visiting Damascus, you must allow yourself at least a day to wander through the souks and discover intriguing merchandise. The friendly shopkeepers are usually delighted to offer you tea. For more photos, click on the travelogue: Souks of Damascus.
This bazaar is very busy and crowded all of the time. There are pushy merchants of course here and in all bazaars, but I found the pressure much less here than in Cairo for example where the merchants are very pushy and pratically follow you and plead with you to visit their shop....so I found it much easier to navigate through this bazaar....it was very crowded, people everywhere, but the merchants didnt really bother you much.
Souk al-Hamidiyya took its current form in the 19th century, when the governor of Damascus enlarged a much older souk and covered it with its characteristic corrugated iron roof. It is named after the Ottoman Sultan Abdel Hamid II. The two-storey shops which line it sell a range of goods including clothes, accessories, jewellery and carpets.
One thing you will notice is the dappled lighting affect produced by the sun streaming in through the hundreds of bullet holes in the roof. these were cause by celebrating Arab riflemen after the Turks and Germans retreated in 1917. Then more were added in 1925 by machine guns in French planes, firing down at Syrian rebels.
Light twinkles like stars through the bullet holes in the iron roof of the Hamidiyeh Souq, and the lamps lining the wide passage give the whole place a glow. Below is a seething, heaving mass of people - local women shopping for everyday items, girls pointing at elaborate wedding dresses, carpet and curio salesman trying to lure tourists in to their shops, men with stuffed hawks sitting on their wrist, boys selling the flourescent-lit tubes and other knick-knacks you see all over the world, families heading for the icecream parlours. Druze women in their delicate white muslin veils, old men in traditional dishdashas and checked keffiyehs, young girls in jeans and their mothers in hijab. On and on it goes, until finally you come out into the sunshine of the newly smartened-up square in front of the Omayyed Mosque.
Come back again after 6 and all is shuttered and closed. A few last people are drifting around but that is all. Now is the time to see just how big the souq is before you too take yourself off to your evening pursuits.
Before it closes for the day, stop at the icecream parlour (the second one down) for a mastic icecream covered in chopped pistachios. I'm not all that fond of it, MrL loves it - you need to try it though, it's a favourite Damascus treat.
This souq is gigantic and crazy! I personally did not like it as the souq in Aleppo was much better and relaxed (it put me in the buying mood). This souq is nice for people watching though, but as far as shopping goes I though there was too much junk to sift through in order to find anything. The Al-Tekiyeh Al-Sulaymaniyeh Mosque is a MUCH nicer place to buy gifts as the merchandise is higher quality.
The Souq al Hamideh is not as large as the souk in Aleppo by my reckoning, and bargains seemed fewer. However, the retrofit iron and steel roof, shot full of holes by French air assault in 1925 and again in 1945, provides a curious appearance of a constellation of tiny lights in an otherwise dimly lit environment. Outside the citadel wall entrance, the image of Assad reminded had everyone that little would change as long as he's in power. On the first visit, we walked past the shops and spent most of our time examining the columns and arches that are the remains of the Temple of Jupiter.
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