Syria, one of the most significant countries in Western Asia in terms of cultural sites, is a fascinating place to be in. It borders Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea to the west, Iraq to the east, with Jordan and Israel on the southern portions. This strategic position puts Syria at the forefront of various events in history, which can make one feel surreal especially when in front of the Umayyad Mosque, one of the most revered religious structures in the Muslim world.
The people of Syria also descended from one of the most ancient civilisations in the world after Mesopotamia. The ancient Syrians formed one of the centres of Neolithic culture as they cultivated the land and bred cattle ahead of others from different lands. Such rich cultural background makes going to Syria an intriguing idea to consider. Travellers are advised, however, to keep their safety in mind when thinking of visiting the country at this time of writing, as conflict is ongoing between the Assad regime and the rebels who want him out of power.
What to see & do
Aleppo, one of the major cities of Syria, personifies a lively Arab city with its labyrinthine traditional souqs and a range of restaurants and boutique hotels. Little is known about the condition of its landmarks, however, as Aleppo is one of the hotly contested areas of the Assad government and the rebels. Once peace is restored, it will be interesting to find out if Qala'at Samaan, a venerated site, is still standing. Those going to see this landmark will find a church with a unique design of four basilicas. From here, one can check out the National Museum, which features various cuneiform tablets and other important artefacts. One can then head to the Museum of Popular Tradition, which shows relics from the everyday life centuries before. The building itself, however, is appealing with its intricate architecture and decoration.
Damascus, the capital of Syria, is one of the most fascinating cities in Western Asia. Being one of the oldest continually inhabited places in the world, it is a city of legends and wonderful landmarks. The Umayyad Mosqe can be found here, which is one of the most beautiful mosques in the region. It was converted from a Byzantine church and styled with outstanding golden mosaics, which let one glimpse the revered building in its most popular days. From here, a visit to the Historical Museum of Damascus will let one view various photographs and diagrams of the Old City. A large model of the ancient city can also be seen here, which is fascinating compared to the sight of the Old City at present. There is also the Beit Nizam to see, with its fascinating old abandoned houses that hark back to the rich past of the city. Travellers can also venture to Souq Saroujah, a small neighbourhood lined with alleys and small shops.
Hama, although one of the centres of conflict in Syria at present, is still an intriguing city to visit. It is popular in the region for its huge norias or water wheels that back to 13th to the 14th century. The Al-Mohammediyya is a related landmark here, as it used to supply water to the city with its old aqueduct and other ancient parts. Other cultural sights here include the Artists' Place, which occupies a former inn now used an informal studio for local artists. There is also Azze Hrawe to view, a large Mamluk-era residence that features exquisite carvings and many other places that illustrate the magnificence of the city's past.
How to get around
Travellers will find a variety of transport options in Syria. The most reliable mode of transport is the bus, which goes to almost every part of the country. It is comparatively a cheaper and better option for tourists than the train, which has been neglected for many years. One will need to bring their passports, however, to buy tickets. There are taxis, but the fare can be costly which makes it necessary to consider other modes of transport if the budget is tight. Those who want to drive, on the other hand, will need an international driver's licence before getting permission to drive a car.
All these pieces of information can change, depending on the condition of the roads and the transportation networks after bouts of gunfighting and warfare.
How to get there
Travellers going to Syria will find it hard to visit the country as the primary airports closed down due to the Civil War. The only international airport open at the time of writing is Bassel Al-Assad International Airport in Lakatia. Syrian Air serves here, with flights coming from Cairo, Damascus, Kuwait, Qamishli, and Beirut.