the Euphrates to the Mediterranean, from Zenobia to the Crusaders, there
is not an inch of land in Syria that history and men have left untouched.
A veritable open-air museum, with deserts and oases, blue beaches and
valleys dotted with olive trees, the earth itself in this cradle of
humanity is steeped in an Oriental perfume. A land of biblical tribes, its
most beautiful legends are born there where the sand has turned to stone.
Saint Simeon built by the
Sumerian in the 5th century BC, Canaanite in the,
3rd century BC, then Amorite, Aramaean, Hellenic, Seleucid, Roman,
Byzantine and Arab, pagan, then Christian and Muslim, Syria is a place
where religions and civilizations have always converged without ever
crowding each other. For proof, one need only look at Damascus, the oldest
capital in the world still inhabited today. Nested like a jewel in its
ancient walls, the old city unfolds its ancestral charms between minarets
and church steeples.
While exuberant and business-minded, this city, whose
beauty won it the nickname "Halo of the moon on earth" and
"Beauty mark of the world" delights in linyering over the ritual of
tea-drinking. With smiles all around, friends and foreigners alike are
invited to sit back and join in the tradition.
And where better to start
than in the Souk al Hamidiyeh, a must for every tourist on his or her way
to the Omayyed Mosque. Elegant women with veiled silhouettes rub shoulders
with porters in djellabas and sundry smooth talkers urging you to step
into their boutiques for "the pleasure of the eye" and the
dismay of your wallet!
Bearing witness to
columns of the main avenue of Apamea.
Palmyra: harmony in gold
and honey; broken columns trace the memory of one antiquity's cities.
of the most beautiful holy places in all of Islam, the Omayyad Mosque is
also a symbol of religious syncretism. Built in the 7th century, it
encompasses an earlier Aramaean structure, a Roman temple to Jupiter and a
Byzantine church. Dedicated to Allah in 636, this sanctuary is home to
many sumptuous Oriental rugs as well as an impressive reliquary bearing
the head of Saint John the Baptist.
Close by, the 18th-century Azem palace
looks like it comes straight out of a tale in the Thousand and One Nights.
The inner courtyards, with their multi-colored basalts, limestone and
marble walls bespeak the refinements of the Ottoman empire, which ruled
the city for more than four centuries. The arch on Madhat Pasha street
marks the boundary of the former Christian quarter, where all communities
have been living together for centuries in perfect harmony. Wandering
haphazardly through the narrow, winding alleys where craftsmen of every
origin, including Armenian, are carving away on pieces of gold and silver,
you might stumble across the moving little chapel dedicated to Ananias. A
contemporary and disciple of Christ, Ananias had a vision sending him to
Paul, whom a heavenly Light had blinded; when Ananias laid his hands on
him, Paul was cured and began his life as apostle to the Gentiles.
Safita Cham Palace Hotel
Friday, the Muslim sabbath day, the city center is deserted as the
Damascenes flock to the banks of the Barada, where families gather to
picnic, puff on their hookah pipes or take a snooze while the children
play at being crocodiles in the rough-flowing river. The smell of smoking
kebabs combines with the syrupy music screaming out of' the transistor
radios to lend a most picturesque color to the whole scene. In Damascus,
an evening not to be missed on any account is dinner at the panoramic,
revolving restaurant at the Cham Palace hotel.
Chahba Cham hotel.
||While reveling in the
refined atmosphere and sampling the best Oriental specialties of the
capital, one can in a single glance take in the flickering electrical
garlands of Damascus, the jewel at the desert's gate, the place known as
the "lily among all flowers."
the charm of a dark city. Located in the fertile Nukra plain at the
country's southern limits. Bosra is one of those magical places that was
long ago plunged into the oblivion of history, only to reemerge for the
eye's pleasure thanks to the generosity of several enlightened patrons. An
old trading city dating back more than 2000 years, this Nabataean town was
made capital of the Arabian province when the Romans annexed the region in
the early years of the modern era. Later, it became one of the key cities
of Islam representing tolerance, for it is said that this is where the
young Mohammed met the monk Bouheira, who foretold his vocation as the
Prophet. Among the vestiges of the ancient city, the most stunning are
those of' the Roman theater. Considered as the very symbol of Bosra, the
theater has been admirably preserved thanks to the construction of the
Ayyubid citadel, built by Saladin in the 12th century. It is among the
biggest and most beautiful amphitheaters in the world, and in its black
basalt walls the entire history of the city can be retraced. The sobriety
of its lines and harmony of its proportions enhance the natural brilliance
of the black stone facade ennobled with touches of' white limestone. As a
consummate refinement, during the hot season the theater used to be
covered with a silk canopy, which was sprayed with perfumed water in order
to refresh the fifteen thousand spectators in the audience. A veritable
museum-city, Bosra is still inhabited today, its population gathered
around the vestiges of the old city, perpetuating the centuries-old
tradition of one of the most captivating sites in the country. The city's
only hotel is located near the theater. Practical and luxurious, a night
in the Bosra Cham Palace provides a welcome relief from fatigue before the
next day of touring. With its little terraces opening on to the swimming
pool and the antique theater, it is the perfect complement to the grandeur
of Bosra. Heading north, one comes to the rich valley of the Orontes.
Nicknamed the Rebel1ious River, its banks have been lined with waterwheels
since the dawn of time, drawing water in buckets to irrigate the orchards
and supply the towns. In the picturesque city of Hama, they like to say
that if the squeaking of the "norias" stopped for a night, the
entire town would suffer from insomnia. The only hotel in the region"
the Apamea Cham Palace, is ideally situated to allow you to explore all
the local splendors while sejourning in the exquisite comfort of an
international-class Oriental palace.
in all countries of sand, wherever water is to be found, you can be
sure that men have followed. Continuing along the Orontes to the
north, one comes to Qalaat al-Mudiq and the site of Apamea,
sister-city to Palmyra.
This stopover site along the caravan route was founded by one of
Alexander's lieutenants, who named it in homage to his Persian wife,
In the time of the Seleucids, it was second largest city in
Syria after Antioch.
with a decor like 1001 nights.
was surrounded by a fortified wa11 8.5 kilometers long and had
roughly a million inhabitants, including 120,000 nobles.
its bygone days of glory, the city has preserved the smooth and cabled
columns lining the interminable "cardo," the monumental avenue
1,850 meters long and 37,5 meters wide running across the center of the
city, while the ruins of the governor's house still evoke the visit of
Cleopatra and Mark Antony. The site is full of mosaics, some of which can
be, seen at the neighboring museum. One cannot stroll through Apamea
without stumbling across untold numbers of pilasters, basins and friezes.
To walk here is to walk on whole stratums of civilizations past, perfumed
with the humus of the centuries and the magic of stones spattered in gold
and honey. Here, just as in Palmyra, "the desert wife, "the eye
is irresistibly drawn in search of the invisible silk route, and one turns
to the silent gaze of the statues hoping to discover in the end the secret
of the legendary beauty of queen Zenobia. Sometimes we tend to forget that
places of worship are as much gifts of God as they are monuments to human
achievement. What better reason, then to make a visit to the basilica of
It was here on this mystery-filled hillside, where only the
cypress trees interrupt the solitude of one's thoughts, that the Byzantinc
emperor Zenon had a basilica built in the 5th century in honor of Simeon
Stylites. Nothing but a shred of stone is now left of the enormous pillar
on which the ascetic monk lived for 42 years, and the deserted sanctuary
is inhabited by the wind alone, still echoing with the singsong of fervent
prayer. For centuries, pilgrims from around the world couldn't resist the
pagan gesture of carrying off with them a tiny fragment of the column as a
reminder of this site, so vibrant with an invisible faith. Pilgrims from
Europe and elsewhere continue to come here to visit the sanctuary and pay
homage to the monk's memory.
|Next stop, Aleppo, where the noonday sun
beats down on the cracked walls of the imposing citadel, hunched up on its
centuries old foundations. To find a bit of fresh air, the best place to
head is the souk, like so many caverns of Ali Baba, the souks of Aleppo
extend for more than ten kilometers and are by far the most fascinating in
the entire Middle East. Souks for woo1, gold, Turkish slippers, Kaffiyehs...
A fragrance of cardamom and musk fills the air, as the senses are dazzled
by this farandole of colors, movements and sounds. The souk can be a
pleasure for sight and touch, or it can be the pleasure of bargaining or
just enjoying a hit of conversation over a Turkish coffee.
magic of the Orient and its bazaars will always
| fascinate us.
Second-largest Syrian city, Aleppo has always rivaled Damascus.
of gastronomy, Aleppo boasts the best restaurant in the country. Perched
on the heights of the Chahba Cham Palace hotel, the restaurant offers
candlelight dining against the backdrop of an unbeatable view of city and
citadel. You can have excellent Russian caviar and an exceptional shrimp
ramekin, ending with a divinely delicious fresh apricot tart that would
melt the resolve of the most steadfast of dieters. And all of this will
cost you less than $20!
|Far from the desert, but still close to the sand,
the beaches of Lattakia on the Syrian coast are a family experience.
Grandmothers peek out of their chadors to watch over their grandchildren,
splashing gaily in the warm, blue water, while the women tend to their
shopping and the men play backgammon. This is the Oriental Riviera., and
the same elegance
the Syrian Riviera.
| and savoir faire is to be found when dining on the
terrace of the Côte d'Azur de Cham hotel, where people are sure to dress
for the occasion. Close by, the setting sun lends its golden glow to the
Crusaders' mighty fortress. Begun in 1170 by Tancred, prince of Antioch,
the Crac des Chevaliers is the most famous medieva1 fortress in the world.
The massive Qalaoun tower stands over 650 meters high and commands a view
of the peaceful Boukeia valley. On a clear day, it is just possible to
make out the first range of mountains in Lebanon. To the north, one can
see the Safita Tower, which served as a beacon to the Crusaders' ships.
The Safita Cham Palace hotel stands at the foot of this monument,
dominating the surrounding valley, the stage setting for many of the
battles fought during the Crusades. Inside this fortified dream, which the
Crusaders ringed with ramparts to ensure its protection, the shadows of
va1iant knights still slip silently along the gothic arcades as if they
had only just deserted the place. While you are still shivering off this
strange sensation, you can't help but feel reassured by the singular
discovery that in this land of solitude and history, the mortal hourglass
is not filled with the sands of this desert. In Syria, time cannot be
measured, it is neither wasted nor won, it simply glides over the stones
like a smile crossing the face of the Middle East.
R A C T I C A L I N F O
France and all the other international airline companies fly
regularly to Damascus from Paris and the major European capitals
Syria is also represented by the largest tour operators, the
following are just a few of the possibilities Rev’Vacances, Clio,
Le Tourisme Français, Kuoni. Les
Amis de l'Orient, Découvrir, Ikhar, Explorateur…
C C O M M O D A T I O N
only chain of luxury hotels to cover Syria is the Cham Palaces
chain, directed by its founder and president, Doctor Osmane Aïdi
with his background in engineering,
Dr Aïdi has succeeded in bringing the same spirit and know-how to
his Syrian chain as to the Royal Monceau group in France, which he
also presides. In addition to their 5 star luxury comfort and their
international service, the hotels in the Cham chain have the
advantage of being remarkably well situated, either at the entrance
to the major sites or in the very heart of the largest stopover
The vast, air-conditioned rooms are extremely comfortable and
all have a complete bath, television, telephone and mini-bar with a
profusion of marble, the interior decoration is refined and the
style inspired from the oldest Oriental traditions. All the swimming
pools have a bar to one side offering quick and casual refreshment.
As for the evening, the Cham Palace bars and discothèques only
close after the last of the night-lifers has headed off to Luxury
boutiques for shoppers, plus sauna, hammam, beauty salon and health
club make each hotel a city unto itself. Each establishment has its
own specialty: Damascus is famous for its magnificent lobby filled
with green, its Chinese restaurant (considered one of the best in
the world) and its panoramic, revolving restaurant.
Deir Ezzor for its unbeatable view over the Euphrates, its
comfort and its excellent food, Aleppo for its panoramic restaurant,
the best in the country; and Palmyra for its hot springs and its
unsurpassable views of the ruins of "the desert wife ".
The most recent hotels in the chain are Bosra and Apamée Cham
Palace in Hama, especially good for its terrace-restaurant which
overlooks the waterwheels on the Orontes river and for its splendid
decoration in pink marble columns all Cham Palace hotels, the staff
speaks fluent English and French.
H O P P I N G
||Whether you're looking for gold or
spices, silk or icons, Syria has something for you. Furniture inlaid
with mother-of-pearl, silver, jewelry, hand-blown glass, rugs,
hookahs, damask table linens and candied fruit (a specialty). For
those who love bargain hunting the Damascus antique dealers in
Sakiyyé and Hamra street and the craftsmen around the Takieh es
Sulaymanieh mosque are good quality. Among the best addresses for
quality silk brocades and damask fabrics in the Khahl Daye Bab
Charki house at nº28 Hanania street. The Aleppo souks must not be
missed. If you love embroidered dresses, you'll find the most
beautiful ones at Hashem Moushalah in the Al Haraj souk in
Aleppo. If you are afraid of being cheated, remember that the major
antique dealers also have boutiques in the big hotels. Although much
more expensive than anywhere else, they do have the advantage of
selling reliable and authentic works. But be warned, in Syria,
bargaining is a must., except for gold jewelry, which has its price
THE CITIES OF SYRIA
- ALEPPO - LATAKIA - PALMYRA -
ZABADANI - BOSRA - BANYAS -
TARTUS - ARWAD