Damascus is one of the world’s oldest continually inhabited cities, and legend say that the Prophet Mohammed refused to enter the Syrian capital because he only wanted to enter paradise one time – when he died. The coveted capital is celebrated for its rich history, scenic landscape, romantic Old City, coffeehouses, bazaars, mosques, street-car vendors, minarets and so much more. Although the country is currently being ravaged by a civil war, there is hope that Damascus will once again thrive.
Start your visit at the Souq al-Hamidiyya, a wide street lined with small shops. The air has a thick aroma of exotic spices, and entire rows of passages are dedicated to everything from silk scarves and inlaid boxes to copper and leather goods.
The great Umayyad mosque stands at the end of the Souq al-Hamidiyya. One of the most important buildings in Islam, only the holy mosques of Medina and Mecca are considered more sacred. The faithful have been worshipping on the site since the 9th century BC, when the Aramaeans constructed a temple to Hadad. The Romans later worshipped Jupiter at the temple and massively expanded it. When Constantine embraced Christianity, the pagan shrine was replaced with one to John the Baptist. According to legend, his head is held in a casket there.
Part of the basilica was converted into a mosque when the Muslims arrived in Damascus in 636 AD, but the city became the capital of the Islamic world 70 years later, the mosque became its center, and the Christians were ousted. In the following decade, 1,000 artisans and stonemasons built the grand new mosque. Although invading Mongols, blazing fires and devastating earthquakes ravaged the mosque over the centuries, what remains today is still impressive.
The opposite end of the souq is dominated by the Citadel, built between 1076 and 1193 to protect the city from Crusader attacks. During the summer, concerts are frequently held in the grounds.
The nearby Mausoleum of Salah al-Din is also worth exploring. The small red-domed building is surrounded by a small archaeological garden among Roman Ruins. The anti-crusade hero was known for his austerity, and the mausoleum’s modest style is a tribute to that.
One of the most dazzling sights in Damascus is the Azm Palace, built in the mid-18th century by Ottoman governor As’ad Pasha al-Azm. The palace housed the rulers of Syria until 1956, when it was converted into a museum. Today, visitors can walk through the lush, shady courtyard, explore archaeological finds from local digs and walk through the ornate rooms decorated with frescoes, dramatic arches, banded stonework and patterned marble.
At night, head to the peak of Mount Qasioun to see a stunning view of the illuminated city, then visit the restaurants in old Damascus for an authentic Syrian meal. For a small price, visitors can feast on shawarma, sip mint tea and indulge in some of the world’s sweetest baklava. The quarter’s many restaurants often host live music, creating a welcoming and memorable atmosphere. There are also many cafes, hookah bars and nightclubs in the area.
Damascus Geographical Location
Damascus is located in the southwest of Syria on the river Barada near the Mediterranean Sea.
The population of Damascus, Syria’s second largest city, is approximately 1,715,000.
Arabic is the official language of Syria with Kurdish, Armenian, and Circassian being widely understood. French and English is spoken in small numbers.
Damascus Predominant Religion
- 74% Sunni Muslim
- 16% Other Muslim
- 10% Christian
In addition to these demographics, there is a small Jewish community in Damascus as well as Al Qamishli and Aleppo.
The Syrian Pound is the official currency of Syria.
The summers in Damascus are dry and hot while the cold winters see the most rain, though still very little, and at times snow.
Damascus Main Attractions
- Umayyad Mosque
- Old City
- Damascus Center
Other Attractions in Damascus
- The National Museum of Damascus
- The Omayyad
- The Azem Palace
- St Paul’s Chapel