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Damascus

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Hauran : Damascus
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Damascus is the capital of Syria and its largest city, at about a million people. Until recently it was thought to be the world's oldest continuously inhabited city, and the old walled city feels especially ancient, with its narrow, smooth-walled alleys punctuated by enigmatic doors leading to the blank-faced houses' pleasing, verdant interior courtyards.


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Get around

See

The Souq al-Hamidiyya, a tangle of streets packed with tiny shops, is entered through columns from a Roman temple built on a site that had been occupied by an even older temple. The souqs themselves smell of cumin and other distinctive spices and you can find passages dedicated to everything from leather and copper goods to inlaid boxes and silk scarves.

At the other end of Souq al-Hamidiyya is a fort-like section of the extant city wall that is the Citadel (but make sure to visit Aleppo's Citadel for a truly amazing experience).

Nearby, you can visit the mausoleum of Salah al-Din, known in the west as Saladin, the chief anti-crusader. There's a great statue of him on horseback right next to the citadel which will make you gasp if you walk all the way around it - underneath the horse's slightly lifted tail sit two dejected Frankish knights, one of whom is holding a shield with a lion on it. A not very subtle indication that he is Richard the Lion-Hearted, about to be further disgraced!

The October War Panorama. It's out in the suburbs but accessible by minibus or taxi. It's about US$7 to get in and well worth it. It was built with the help of the North Korean Government and the influence shows. There is an exhibit of military hardware outside.

Do

Learn

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Buy

Eat

Budget

Felafel stalls are all over the place. A felafel sandwich is a very cheap vegetarian meal. I never had any problems with the salad that comes with it although if you are being cautious you might want to ask the vendor to leave it out.

Mid-range

Splurge

Drink

Sleep

Budget

  • The Al-Rabie Hotel is located on an attractive side street about a 5-10 minute walk from the citadel. It has an attractive courtyard, and clean rooms. S£700 for double with shared bath, S£1000 for double with ensuite. Some of the rooms that share a bath are a bit of a hike from the bath and shower rooms.

Moderate

  • Al Majed Hotel, 29th May Street, above Yusef Al-'Azmi Square, behind the Assufara (Ambassadors') Cinema, double rooms from US$20-$25, mixed dorm US$10 - completely renovated in 2001, this family-run 60-room hotel remains a very popular, secure and central place to stay for travelers of all sorts - from businessmen to backpackers. The Al Majed Restaurant, open 24 hours, is located on the top floor of the Hotel with a variety of dishes, from traditional Middle Eastern dishes to Continental fare.

Splurge

  • Al Mamlouka, tel (+963 11) 543 0445/46, fax (+963 11) 541 7248, mailto:almamlouka@mail.sy, doubles from £72 sterling a night including breakfast - a luxury boutique hotel (8 rooms: two single, two double, four suites) is located in Bab Touma, the heart of the old city of Damascus, and dates back to the 17th century. Each room is decorated in its own version of Oriental style. Located opposite a hammam (Turkish bath) and within minutes' walk of the souq and several good restaurants. The hotel features an Old Bayke (stable) converted into a gallery, restaurant and bar. The roof terrace is also worth a visit.
  • Four Seasons

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