A trip to Lebanon instigated another trip to neighboring Syria in 2019. From the ancient city of Damascus we travelled by public bus to Homs and Aleppo, the two cities that were most affected by the war and where it is still most visible. The Aramaic speaking village Mallula was equally effected, but had received so much support from Christians in Lebanon that hardly any destruction was noticeable.
Why Syria in 2019- two year after the war had ended?
The seed for the trip to Syria was planted in Anjar/Libanon, once a stronghold of the Umayyad Dynasty that expanded Islam all the way to Spain. Even 1200 years later, I could sense the elegance and grace of the buildings, I was struck, deeply touched. It was a completely peaceful moment, I was the only person around, complete silence. Syria was behind a small hill bordering this archeological sight. This very moment I knew I had to visit the Umayyad Mosque in Damaskus, build by the same Caliphs, visit an one of the cradles of civilizations.
In Beirut I met Syrians who studied, worked there or were waiting for their visa for European countries. Syria moved in on me, it became very close, not the country marked in red, too dangerous for travelling. The war had ended the year before, most Europeans were not even aware of that.
I also started wandering what kind of picture Western media portrays of such countries. It was not the first time, during each of my trips to Africa I asked myself the same question. In Sudan once people begged me to tell my families and friends back home that they are not fanatics and terrorists, but just wanted to live in peace, like everybody else.
How do travel to Syria
Right after returning from Libanon in November 2018, I started reading blogs of people who had just travelled to Syria. There weren’t many, but their stories confirmed my impression. One of the blogs got me in touch with three guys who also planned on going to Syria soon. Actually, I prefer travelling by myself, because I always meet fun people, but I was not sure whether this would be the case in Syria, a year after the war had ended.
The blog recommended an agency that issued the invitation needed to pick up your visa at the border. This is not cheap, plus you have travel with a guide. This was a new rule, after a German tourist had behaved like an idiot and try to reach Idlib. Transferring the money became a nightmare for some of us, since the transfer got stopped and we didn’t know where the money was. Eventually all went well. I would recommend paying in US dollars once you arrive.
In Beirut I met my fellow travelers (all in all we were 6 different nationalities), a driver took us across the border to Damascus, where we met our guide.
At the border we got our visa stamped into our passport, which was another 120 US and an hour later we were in Damascus, which was lucky to escape any fights.
The National Museum
The national Museum in Damascus had just reopened in April 2019, not all Parts were open, only the Classic section, but what we saw was breathtaking.
Apart from the human toll that the war in Syria took, the property destroyed, the drama happening in Palmyra captivated the world. Helplessly the world had to watch the barbaric destruction of Syria’s cultural heritage by ISIS. The Allat Temple was one of them, in 2013. Its gate was once adorned by the Allat Lion. After the liberation of Palmyra, what was left of the Allat Lion, was brought to Damascus and put together with the help of Polish archeologists. Now it sits in the garden of the reopened National Museum. I was lucky to meet one of the persons who was involved in the rescue and renovation. I must admit it was an extremely touching moment to see goodness prevails over destruction. Even from very close the Allat Lion looks unscathed.