As Mark Twain wrote “….no recorded event has occurred in the world but Damascus was in existence to receive news of it.” Damascus and Aleppo vie for the title of ‘oldest continually inhabited city in the world’. With its Biblical associations, souqs, visual evidence of continuous occupation from Hellenistic times through Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Ottoman and into the modern age, Damascus is a feast for the senses.
The Old City, whose walls can still be traced, includes the ‘Street called Straight’ which stretches for almost 2km across the heart of the area.
As in Aleppo, the Old City is not just for tourists, the locals live and shop here in droves, and you can buy everything from clothing (traditional Arab dress as well as the kind of fake designer stuff we see so much of in Turkey), to food, spices, sweets, jewellery, furniture and a huge range of souvenirs.
But take one of the side alleys and you are in a different world. We were in a cafe in the Old City one evening when there was a power cut, and we walked through its lanes with only the illumination of candles and lanterns from inside houses, and the odd pedestrian with a torch. Magic.
Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the Old City is the range of people you see here.
The city contains the fourth holiest Islamic site: the Ummayad Mosque, to which pilgrims come from all over the Islamic world.
Nearby is a Shia mosque built in the 1980s but already a focus of the exuberant style of worship unique to the Shia.
And there are grand palaces, a Christian quarter, old Damascene courtyard houses, hans and, occasionally, you may even see a woman from a village coming into the city to sell the produce from her garden which she carries balanced on her head.