In ancient times all roads led to Damascus and even though camel caravans no longer take this route, if you are in the market for an amazing bazaar experience, follow Intrepid’s Jessica Lee into the winding alleyways of Syria’s capital city…
“They say that as the Prophet Mohammed stood on the mountainside looking down on the city of Damascus he decided not to enter, because he only wanted to visit paradise once and that was when he died. Even today it remains a remarkable city that mesmerises our group as we weave our way through the crowded entrance of Souq al-Hamidiyya and enter the milieu.
Through the throng of shoppers we spot the flapping wings of a stuffed eagle, held overhead by a tout desperate for a sale. Bodies push past us to gaze at the garish displays of frilly wedding dresses in shop windows, while at our feet a hawker demonstrates wind-up toys to a circle of onlookers. Amidst all the mayhem are the tea sellers decked out in traditional Ottoman attire, trying to entice us with a brew. It is a pandemonium of selling and buying that stretches 500 metres up to the Umayyad Mosque, and a Damascene tradition that has carried on for thousands of years.
This has always been a town for traders and shoppers; with a rich history steeped in the trade routes of spice and silk that in bygone years brought camel caravans to its city gates. Damascus was a city where East met West in a cacophony of colour, sound and smell. The camels may no longer plod this route but this un-paralleled market town still pulsates with commerce today.
The cobblestone path of the souq rumbles with action as flocks of locals, pilgrims and overwhelmed tourists compete for space. Though you may not be in the market for a shawl, a leather bag, a wedding dress or a stuffed eagle, something will surely catch your eye and convince you to try your hand at bargaining.
When it all gets too much we do what the locals do, and head to Bekdach ice cream parlour at the end of the souq. Revered as the best in Damascus, not many can resist their delectably creamy scoop of vanilla topped with a generous pile of pistachios. After sampling a Bekdach ice cream, like the Prophet Mohammed, you really will believe you have entered paradise.”
* photo by Kristen Davis – Intrepid Photography Competition