NEAF's 2008 Tour to Syria

Syrian Tour

NEAF's latest tour to Syria was completed by a group of 17 NEAF members in April and May 2008.

While political problems kept us out of Lebanon (a great shame), it did mean that we were able to immerse ourselves in the various landscapes of Syria. By the tour's end we were able to fully explore the archaeological and cultural treasures that can be found in Syria.

As someone who has been to Syria many times, I was impressed with the pace and direction of change that I saw, particularly in Damascus and Aleppo. While memories of these places will remain as rarely visited and mysterious oriental souqs: the world turns - and it takes Syria with it. Now Straight Street is a continuous construction zone as the road is replaced with a pedestrian mall, and the high arched roof rebuilt, but in the style of what was there (pictured). Elsewhere cement dust billows from ancient shops being renovated. While still incorporated into the existing fabric of the souq, these shops will no longer sell rope as did their previous occupant, but tastefully boxed perfume samples or some other tourist keepsake. Boutique hotels are being built throughout the Old city of Damascus and in the Armenian Quarter of Aleppo. I was amazed to see tastefully renovated buildings being used as Cafe Galleries, with bright young things sipping coffee in amongst the modern art.

The ancient Greeks saw the world in flux and in the early 21st century this is as true as ever. Now that the Mediterranean is one long beach resort drowning under the weight of Coppertone sunscreen and while the queues grow ever longer in Europe, it is only natural that places like Syria, which have so much to offer, will start to join the international rush for the international visitor.

Even if bits of Syria are being homogenised, and even if you are more likely to run into a good cappuccino in Damascus than a camel - the vibe of the place is still there, the merchants as every bit crafty, the architecture every bit as lovely (now more likely to be restored and cared for) and the people just as accommodating.

This year’s tour was a good chance for NEAF members to reacquaint themselves with Syria. From the changes in Damascus, to picnics in landscapes that have remained the same for years, Syria has the ability to appeal to the many desires of the modern traveller.

-Ben Churcher

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