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Introducing Syria

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Mosque © Judith Duk

Syrian hospitality was refreshingly sincere before the conflict, even by Middle Eastern standards, and visitors could expect a warm greeting begun with the phrase, 'Ahlan wa Sahlan', meaning 'you are welcome.'

The country's ancient roots provided a fascinating backdrop to everyday life, with five-hundred-year old souks being a significant part of this experience. A legacy of ancient trade routes, these bustling markets sold everything from handmade chunks of soap and carpets, to sheep's tongues. Donkeys, 1960s American car-taxis, bicycles, minibuses and private jeeps vied for places on the streets, while street vendors and shoe-shiners clogged the sidewalks.

Damascus was of particular interest to travellers. As one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, the capital brimmed with history. In the north, travellers celebrated the city of Aleppo for its medieval citadel (now in ruins), elaborately decorated hammans (bath houses), and ancient souk. It was also close to the ruins of St Simeon, perhaps one of the world's oldest churches. St Simeon is yet another casualty of the war.

Syria is still one of the most fascinating countries in the region, and aspects of its rich history have survived. Adventurous travellers who are sensitive to the destination's recent past will relish a visit to this part of the Middle East.

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