Below are a couple of books I recommend reading prior to a trip to Syria:
Syria - A Historical and Cultural Guide, by Warwick Ball
Monuments of Syria - An Historical Guide, by Ross Burns
Syria - A Selection of Reports, by Carol Miller
Construction of Power and Piety in Medieval Aleppo, by Yasser Tabbaa (Penn State Press). A big hard cover book, way too heavy to pack in your bag, but it provides a scholarly account of medieval architecture in Aleppo for those interested in the details...
Alep, par Jean-Claude David & Gérard Degeorge (Flammarion). In French, a large illustrated coffee table book about the history of the city and its architecture. Again, it is too heavy to pack with you.
Aromas of Aleppo - The Legendary Cuisine of Syrian Jews, by Poopa Dweck (An excellent and comprehensive cookbook of Aleppine recipes. It also provides an interesting account of the history of the city and its Jewish population, along with its traditions).
Les Croisades vues par les Arabes, Amin Maalouf (The Crusades Through Arab Eyes, by Amin Maalouf)
Wasta is a word often heard in Syria. It is Arabic and translates as something like authority, influence, political (or other) power, connections, or a combination of those terms. In practical terms it means that some rules can become more flexible if you have wasta, or know someone who has wasta. Also, a bit of wasta can smooth or speed up business transactions, bureaucratic issues, and other official procedures. At its best (or worst, depending on your point of view), a good dose of wasta could keep you out of jail or save you from other unpleasant consequences of dubious activities.
The common English expression "it's not what you know but who you know ... " is a rough equivalent of wasta.
On the wasta scale (not that there is an official one), things that can make a difference in the Syria are your nationality, your profession, who you work for, who you know, your political position in the country, your connections to people in positions of authority. Money and how long you have lived in the Syria don't usually directly affect your wasta level but indirectly they do since longer term residents may have built up a larger network of high-wasta friends, and rich people often associate with other rich people who may be high-wasta individuals.
Many expat residents learn about wasta through a driving experience. In simple terms, the more wasta someone has, the less likely they are to cop a fine and/or be blamed if there's an accident. Wasta can result in some unusual situations for example, green lights were actually red when you went through them because the person who crashed into you had enough wasta to change the color retroactively. Indications of higher levels of wasta on the road are dark tinted or mirror tinted windows (30% maximum is the law so anything more than that means it's likely they have enough wasta to get around this rule), number plates with fewer than 5 digits (but anyone can buy them now if they have enough cash so it's not as good an indication as in the past).
Wasta is something that many expats, especially westerners, find difficult to come to terms with but you'll find it easier to enjoy Dubai if you get used to that rather than try to fight it. And of course it helps if you can elevate your own wasta level somehow.
Wasta and Bribes
Don't confuse wasta with bribery. If you try to bribe a government official, for example a police officer who has just pulled you up for driving though somebody's garden, you should expect to be punished fairly harshly for trying to bribe them. And if the owner of the garden that you drove through has some wasta, then you'll probably be even worse off. In the business world, things may operate a little differently. Just as anywhere else in the world, the negotiation of business transactions and contracts is not always done on a level playing field, and bribes ... er gifts ... might be part of your discussions with interested parties.
Wasta also means to pull some strings. is widespread in Syria and bribery as well under Syrian baath party.
This Baroque-styled clocktower is the main landmark in the more modern Bab al-Faraj area of the city. All lighted up, it makes for great photo opportunities at night, and at daytime, a reference point. To the east is the sprawling Sheraton complex, which only opened in February 2007, and further, Al Jdeida, the Christian quarter.
North of the clocktower is Al Azizieh, an upmarket residential neighborhood with some good restaurants like Challal. West of the clock tower leads you to Sharia Baron (Baron St), so named because of the historic Baron Hotel there, where you could stop by for drinks at their historic bar.
Built by the city's Ottoman governor in the 19th century,tThe rather incongruous clock tower in Aleppo is, nevertheless, is a good reference point in the city, more or less marking the division of the old city from the new.
To its south and west lie the museum , Baron Street and the little streets where you will find cheap restaurants and internet cafes and the main bus station. Walking north will bring you to the Jdaide Quarter, while to the south-east you will find the Old city with its souks, hammams, khans and, of course, the Citadel
I can recommend a good guide/problem solver/ taxi driver, in Allepo. His name is Kalil, and you can reach him at
Some of these guys are shady, some incompetent. Kalil is solid and honest. He knows the city very well, and can take you on excursion out of town as well. He took me to an excellent Kebab restaurant, showed me superb baklava (called mahbouda in Arabic). You have both a taxi service and a guide in this man.
Even better, Kalil arranged for a service taxi for my return to Turkey overland. The driver he got was a total professional, unlike the journey in.
His rate was very reasonable and he is a warm and charming man. His English is so-so, but I did not find communication at all a problem.
You will find him a rare and valuable asset...the sort of thing that should not exist but does. He certainly enhanced my experience of Allepo.
Favorite thing: The khans are ancient travellers' inns, flanking the main thoroughfare through the souq. They are usually 2 stories and surround a central courtyard. Once, camel trains would have stopped in them. Nowadays, they are partly used as warehouses and partly as extensions to the souq. Most of Aleppo's khans were built in the sixteenth century. The largest, Khan al-Jumruk, dates back to 1574 and housed the first European trade missions in the city.
Favorite thing: Al-Jdeida, the Christian quarter of Aleppo, is the nicest area to go to in the evening. It is a maze of narrow streets and alleyways. This is where you can find lots of small hotels and restaurants on converted merchants' houses. Most of the inhabitants are Armenians and Maronites and there are several Christian denominations' churches and cathedrals here, including Greek Orthodox and Syrian Catholic.
Aleppo university now make courses for teaching Arabic for non arab people and it,s take 2 month per course , 8 hours per week and it,s cost 80-100$ and they teach puplic Arabic lang also .
Fondest memory: You can contact on Aleppo University Telefax :00963 21 2674505
web site : http://www.alepuniv.shern.net/index_en.php?pid=2
Getting invited to a local's house is the best memory I had in Aleppo !
This is the kind of hospitality which is not always come by so I took the chance even that meant that I had to leave certain places to explore on my own around Aleppo.
Favorite thing: Whichever way you look, the skyline of Aleppo is speared with minarets. They come in all shapes and sizes, tall, slender witch-hatted Turkish-style ones, veritable forests around some of the newly built mosques on the outskirts of the city in all sorts of fanciful shapes and often gaudily striped and patterned, but it is these old ones that I like best. Solid stone towers with their distinctive round-topped roofs. Some, like these in the streets around the souk and in the heart of the old city are very ancient indeed.
Favorite thing: As you walk around the city, take time to look up at the buildings around you. Intricate woodwork on latticed Ottoman balconies, even when it is a poor state of repair, is a reminder of a bygone time when houses were separated into haramlek (for the women and family members only) and salamlek where guests could be entertained. Then the balconies served as the place from where, unseen from the street, the women could watch the world go by.
One afternoon in Aleppo Firas, Leen and I went for a swim in one of the many swimming pools in city. The first two we went to were only open for men that day. So, if you are going to visit a swimming pool you might have to look for one that is right for you that day! We went ot Al Jalaa Club as it was mixed.
It was a hot day and the swim was very really refreshing! Something to recommend a summer day in Aleppo!
I was in Aleppo two years before and by that time I did not know at all that there were so many swimming pools in the city
Favorite thing: The clock tower stands by Sharia al-Faraj where it meets Sharia al-Maari. The first time I visited Aleppo I stayed at a hotel close by, and thought the clock tower was a good landmark, as there were no signs (not that I could read) with the name of the streets.
The prison was called "habas al dam" which means the person of blood, a prisoner was put down in a deep dark hole with almost no drinks and food, so he was really suffering in that closed cold grave!
Eeeeeek feels horrible to be in his place!
It's our Fresh air place!
And were a Syrian family can really have nice times!
All our Guests are invited to our Farmhouse!
This is the real Arabian Spirit of Hospitality!
The Beit Salahieh, is a lovely hotel (converted from a 15th century palace), which has panoramic...more
Try a breakfast in the Sheraton, all you wish to eat and more... And if you love ancient times,...more
Jdayde Area, Alhatab Square, Aleppo, Syria
Good for: Business