Posts from the ‘SYRIA’ Category
Initially I didn’t intend to show pictures or write about mosque in my Syrian series anymore, but this morning, I heard the news that the Minaret of one of the great mosques has finally fallen down to rubble due to the civil war in Syria. I also saw a flash of picture on tv of something that used to be a well preserved and beautiful mosque.
So what is so important of this minaret anyway? Well, this is a small fact: it is the oldest part of the mosque that is prominent and noteworthy square 45 m² minaret. The Minaret’s earliest restoration dates to 1090 during the Seljuk dynasty. The Minaret boasted intricate bands of carved Kufic inscriptions along its length that alternate with bands of stylized ornaments in patterns and moqarnas
Here are some pictures that I managed to take in 2011, a memory from it’s hay day, just days before the war erupted.
The Great Mosque of Aleppo was also called Umayyad Mosque. It was also built during the Umayyad period in the Middle East, 10 years after the Great Umayyad Mosque in Damascus. Originally this Great Mosque of Aleppo was built on the site of a former Roman temple and Byzantine cathedral built by St. Helen (mother of Constantine the Great). The mosque was founded by the Umayyad Caliph al Walid in 715 AD, and completed by his successor Caliph Suleiman.
Like its sister mosque in Damascus, this one is also built off the souk. The main entrance to the mosque was directly at the extension of the souk with great traditional open market atmosphere. Thus the idea of a mosque is a place for the people gathering, not only a place to worship.
Throughout its history the building has endured multiple renovations and reconstructions in response to natural disasters (earthquakes and fire) and to modify its use, resulting in the development of its surroundings. Nural Din rebuilt in in 1169 after a great fire and the mosque was destroyed yet again during the Mongol invasion in 1260.
Because of the above reasons, the recent mosque design and layout was totally different from what was originally built, except the minaret that had survived so far. When I visited the mosque, it looked so immaculately beautiful, as it has undergone an extensive renovation (2003-4) during which, the minaret were especially restored. However, today’s civil war destroyed the mosque yet again, and this time including the long standing Minaret.
I think this photography collection is now precious. And another proof of the history of human civilisation has now gone just like that because of the conflict between humans. Worse of all, the destruction from the current war has the worst impact of destruction, approximately five out of six World Heritage Buildings have been damaged in this war according to UNESCO.
As a normal woman, I love shopping, from grocery shopping in Carrefour Supermarket, to a fancy boutique to try on expensive new clothes by having the shop assistant helping me choose the right dress. My husband is just the same. He loves shopping and as a matter of fact I think he is the best shopper I know.
As I live in the Middle East, I have the privilege of experiencing the Souk; a bazaar where people exchange goods over a friendly conversation. I love visiting the souk, the traditional ones are more fascinating than the modern ones. However, my visit to the Grand Souk of Aleppo two years ago was like no other. It was memorable; I had to opt out of joining our tour bus to go back to the hotel, just to explore the souk slowly and do as Lonely Planet suggested to: “get lost in Aleppo souk”. I even had to go back the next day just to feel the warmth from the shop keepers, the slow moving activity along the grand corridor of souk Al-Attarine. There’s no hustle and bustle of a real busy market; yet everything they sell and the decoration between shops are forever intricate and fascinating. Once I was outside the covered bazaar, the atmosphere changed 180 degrees, the vibrancy of a real market was there; not so intricate, but yet it was equally interesting.
Compared to Al Hamadiyyah Souk in Damascus, where the main corridor is wide, Aleppo Souk had narrower alleyways, yet it was more interesting than the one in Damascus. First developed in the 13th century, but most of it was built during the heyday of the Ottoman Empire between 15th and 17th century. Each different alleyway reflects different ornaments and architecture finishes of the corridor’s facade. But what fascinated me most was the different ceilings types and its illumination system along each corridor, from an opening to the dome shaped ceiling to let in natural light to fancy lighting pendants that represent the traditional Middle Eastern lights.
The fact that Aleppo has been shelled, shattered, destroyed, and left in ruins many times in the past; during the Byzantines and the Mongol period; I am sure that once the current war is over, Aleppo will rebuild again. But what was once the greatest bazaar of the Medieval period, and the finest in the Middle East is now gone, burnt to ashes.
Of course, there’s this term “restoration”, or even for the sake of tourism, there is “re-creation, which could be better than nothing, but the memory and history of the place will be forever different. And it is a fact as Kevin Rushby said: “the world’s greatest treasures has been lost”.
I didn’t manage to explore the Souk as much as I wanted to, but I feel very lucky that I still managed to witness and to record with my camera a little bit on how it was during the early 21st century’s finest glory days.
If you are interested in my other posts about Syria, check out: I’ve been to SYRIA
The Umayyad Mosque is one of the most important mosques in the history of Islam; it holds a special significance to the Shi’ah Muslims. This was where the Prophet Muhammad made the walk from Baghdad (Iraq).
The history of the building:
Built originally as a temple by the Arameans to worship the god of storms and lightening or a temple of Hadad-Ramman. When the Romans conquered Damascus in 64 CE they assimilated Hadad with their own god of thunder or better known as Temple of Jupiter. Under the direction of Damascus-born architect Apollodorus, the Romans continued to expand the Temple as the new Greco-Roman Temple of Jupiter which was intended to serve as a response to the Hebrew temple in Jerusalem.
Towards the end of the 4th century, in 391, the Temple of Jupiter became a church, and converted into the Cathedral dedicated to Saint John (John the Baptist) by the Christian emperor Theodosius I (r. 379–395). Legend has it that Saint John’s head was buried there. It served as the seat of the Bishop of Damascus, who ranked second within the Patriarchate of Antioch after the patriarch himself
In 636 CE, after the battle of Yamouk, Damascus was conquered by the Muslims under the leadership of Khalid-bin-Waleed, and the prayer space became a shared space between the Muslims and the Christians. The Muslims prayed on the eastern section and the Christians prayed on the other side. But soon this space was not enough for the Muslims and the reign of the Umayyad Caliph al Walid I negotiated with the Christian leaders to take over the space, and pay compensation for the Christians to move to the other side of the Old Town, as it is now.
They built the Mosque on its current location in 706 to 715 CE. The construction of the mosque was based on the mosque of the Prophet Muhammad in Madinah. It was built with the help of skilled workers from the Byzantine Empire and that reflected on its exterior style of the building, as well as the interior decoration in the main prayer hall. The middle columns supporting the building have the Corinthian order.
This mosque has 3 towers, or in the term of Islam architecture the word for tower is ‘minaret’:
- On the Eastern side of the Mosque it located Minaret of Jesus the tallest of the three minarets at 77m, and where the locals believe that this is where Jesus will descend during Judgement Day.
- On the North side of the Mosque is located the Minaret of the Bride, the oldest minaret
- On the South-West corner of the mosque is located the Al Gharbiyya Minaret,
A small structure inside the prayer hall lies the head of John the Baptist, which they found during the excavation for the building of the mosque.
Yes, I understand, that the above information is a bit hard to take in, however, it is because of it’s richness of history and it’s existence up to the present day. My visit to this mosque as well as the whole of Syria, made me want to learn more about the history of Near East as well as to comeback to Syria provided the condition of the country is not as it is today.
If you are interested on my other posts on Syria, check out: I’ve been to Syria
It was 2 years a go that we visited Damascus for a guided tour across Syria (read: The Old City of Damascus). But as we arrived in 2 days ahead of the tour, we managed to see Damascus with our own perception, and this was the best bit, we were picked up by a friend of a friend, who is a local. He owned the only musical shop in the Souq al-Hamadiyya – yes, they were having tea in front of his music shop.
What I liked about the Old City were the alleyways, different on every corner; with it’s own specialty at every turn of the street. Souq al-Hamadiyya for instance, is a broad street and very popular with the locals; it sells anything and everything really, from cheap Chinese products, to local handicraft for interior decor. This is also serves as the popular gate towards the old city, at the end of the Souq, before the great Umayyad Mosque – I will explain more about this mosque next week – stands Temple of Jupiter.
Temple of Jupiter is special because it was built by the Romans, at the beginning of the rule of Augustus (Roman Emperor) and completed during the rule of Constatius. It was during this time that Damascus was famous as the city of Jupiter.
What we see in the picture is only part of it, some other parts can be seen as part of the Umayyad Mosque. Like the Old City which has been through different periods of human history, so was this Temple and Mosque. The question is whether it will survive the latest turmoil?
As we moved on from this area, there was this very popular cafe shop, where the locals and the tourists mingle. It didn’t serve food, only coffee or tea, if we wanted food, than we needed to order some where else. Regardless of this, the Damascene think this is the ‘in place’, where you could see people and be seen. Again, I wonder whether this place is still popular now, or even still exists?
Further on from this place, things get more interesting, as to me, this is where the real atmosphere started. The streets widen and narrow with an infinite variation, from a chaotic communal road to an order of small palace.
The Old City is divided into four distinct quarters that roughly align with the fame of the seven gates around the Old City. Souq Al-Hamadiyya is the vibrant and commercial district of the Old City. Bab Sharqi was the gate towards the Christian Quarter , where we found the House of Ananias, the Roman Arch and St. Paul’s Chapel. Bab Salam is the entrance gate if you want to go to Shia’s Mosque of Sayyida Ruqqaya, the most impressively ornate mosque I’ve ever seen. Bab Musala is a gate for the Jewish Quarter, and home to the cities artisan community.
Inside these quarters dotted around are historic places, schools, Hamam, interesting places and palaces turned into museums, like Khan As’ad Pasha, turned into a private museum.
That was a really exciting experience that I wish a could return and visit all those places that I missed last time….
If you are interested in my other posts about Syria, check out: I’ve been to SYRIA
Damascus claims to be the oldest continuously inhabitated city in the World and I tend to agree with that statement. Today, modern Damascus is spread out in all directions, but the Old City has witnessed human civilization since 3rd millennium BC. It still retains it’s attraction; popular among the locals as well as the tourist. Which was where we spent the whole 3 nights and days we were there.
The Old City lays to the lower to the south east of the modern city. It is defined by an encircling wall with 13 gates in and out of the Old City. The city wall was first erected by the Romans and since then has been flattened and rebuilt several times over the last 2000 years or more.
The most popular gate to go through is the Souq al Hamadiyya, or another popular entrance is through Bab (gate) Al-Jabiye, where the famous Straight Street is – it is the street that is mentioned in the Bible. However, inside the Old City there are inner gates that divide it into Christian, Jewish and Islamic quarters. These inner gates are now gone, but one can still feel the difference.
We were there on a Friday evening with our local friends who showed us around and entering the Old City through Bab al-Farag, behind the Citadel we came straight to Umayyad Mosque (this is supposed to be the Islamic quarters), everything was closed. All the maze like alleyways were quiet. We then walked all the way to the other end of the Old City, to the opposite gate, Bab Touma (Thomas Gate), where the place was full of people out and about, young people partying with very loud music, shops and local cafe shops still open; totally the opposite from the gate where we came in first time.
“This is the Christian quarter,” explained our friend, “people are still alive on Friday evening, however, this will be different on Sunday; everything is quiet, and all the action is on the other end of the Old City.”
However, inside the Old City of Damascus, we found a lot of historical monuments, from churches, mosques, baths, as well as a simple “Straight Street” which was mentioned in the Bible.
Syria maybe in turmoil today, but I was lucky enough to visit Syria just a week before the Arab Spring started, in March 2011.
I was really amazed on how much history the city and the country had to offer the visitor. In fact, to me Damascus was like a museum, the whole city full of artefacts, its history maybe as long as human civilisation. One of the examples was our hotel where we stayed for two nights.
The Orient Palace Hotel is located only a few hundred meters from the Old City of Damascus, on a big square. The hotel itself was not in a very good condition. As per our travel operator, this hotel was an acceptable hotel, and they charged us £90 a night. Well, minus booking and administration cost, we assumed the we should have paid to the hotel £70,- direct to the hotel.
Guess what, this is what it really looks like:
This is what lonely planet wrote in their 2004 edition:
“Located on a busy area across Hejaz train station, the Orient has been around since 1929′s (almost 100 years ago), and depending on the level of enthusiasm, it either has plenty of period charm or resembles a gloomy 19th century medical institution. Rooms are a bit fusty, but they are clean and most have balconies”.
Yes, I agree it was a bit fusty and old, and could do with a bit of renovation. Yes centrally located, but what I can’t accept is that I have to pay so much for such badly deteriorated facilities, as according to Lonely Planet, it’s categorised as a Mid Range Hotel.
Finally I am visiting other Middle Eastern countries. Yes, I live in Qatar and I lived in Bahrain, I’ve been to Dubai and Abu Dhabi, but that’s about it. I have been living in the GCC countries for almost 6 years, but never visited the neighbouring countries. This is my big opportunity to visit other Arab Countries as I booked a guided tour with Exodus Travel to visit Syria and Jordan.
This is March, where in Northern Europe snow is falling but not in Southern Europe, thus I assumed Syria would be warmer; however, the morning before we left Doha, a friend of my husband, who is Syrian called saying that :”Damascus was snowing last night, thus pack your warm clothes!”
We were laughing and thinking what he said was a joke, as to repack our bags was impossible as we were only minutes before we leave for the airport. Anyway, in the end we took a warmer jacket, just in case! Our thoughts were by the end of our trip, both Syria and Jordan were supposed to be warmer, besides, Jordan is located more to the south than Syria.
Six hours later, after a stopover in Dubai for a 2 hour change of flights, we arrived in Damascus airport at 3 o clock in the afternoon. I saw people who were wearing summer clothes in Doha and Dubai airport, were putting on their thick winter jackets!!!
A friend of a friend who picked us up from the airport was also wearing his winter jacket, so was his wife.
Lesson learned: We should have listened to local advice and weather forecast up to the last minutes, but what about our packing strategy???