An Introduction to Syrian Landmarks

August 25, 2016

An Introduction to Syrian Landmarks

Full of ancient ruins and unique markets, Syria’s greatest landmarks tell a lot about the country’s complex history.

By Jacob Harris, Journalism Student, Carleton University

Before it became the Syrian Arab Republic, the land was a vital part of the Roman Empire. Annexed by Emperor Pompey in 64 BCE, Syria was one of Rome’s first provinces, allowing the Romans to build imposing structures that still stand to this day.

The Roman Theatre of Palmyra is one example of the mark Rome has left on Syria. From the top of the amphitheatre, there is a spectacular view of Palmyra’s ruins, where visitors can see the remnants of the once vibrant Roman city.

Palmyra is found in the modern province of Homs, the home of SuraiTea’s Vail, Abdullah, and Husam. While the Romans have left an enduring mark on the region, they were certainly not the first to build an empire there, as the Seleucids, Byzantines and Emesenes had previously taken the land. This combination of different rulers and different cultures have left a diverse set of architectural wonders in Syria. Once Muslims took the land, the name of the capital city was changed from Emesa to Homs, and elements of modern Syria’s culture began to take shape.

Just outside Homs is the famous Krak des Chevaliers, a medieval castle near the Lebanese border. The castle was invaluable to Catholic military orders during the crusades, acting as a military base and meeting centre.

While the castle has been battered by earthquakes, battles, and hundreds of years of slow deterioration, Krak des Chevaliers is seen as one of the world’s most well-preserved and important medieval castles. The ongoing civil war, however, has damaged the castle’s interior, its ancient fortifications a poor match for modern bombs and bullets. While castle walls remain strong, many pillars on the inside have been reduced to rubble. The grounds of the castle’s court have been covered with debris, but despite the damage, Krak des Chevaliers is still an imposing structure that can give visitors a clear image of its past strength.

Some of Syria’s most important cultural landmarks have unfortunately played host to battles between government and rebel forces, leaving several UNESCO World Heritage Sites in varying states of ruin. While many sites can be salvaged and restored in the future, landmarks like the Roman Theatre in Bosra have been deserted due to safety concerns. This has halted both tourism and archaeological research in the area. The 2nd-century amphitheater in Bosra was at the centre of a battle in 2015, but both sides have now agreed to end conflict in the historic site, a small sign of hope in a bleak situation.

Located in Daraa, home to many SuraiTea employees, the Ancient City of Bosra is another stunning example of Roman architecture in Syria. Many columns still stand tall, and the 15 000 seat amphitheater remains in stellar condition due to restorations done in the 20th century.

Recent events in the war have given Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, a lot of exposure. The cosmopolitan city has suffered greatly since 2012, and centuries-old sites like the Great Mosque have been overtaken by the warring factions. The mosque’s free-standing minaret was destroyed in 2013 after being seized by rebel forces. The minaret was built in 1090, making its destruction a devastating loss for Syria’s history.
Syria’s capital, Damascus, is home to the country’s most unique landmarks, including the Old City, the Umayyad Mosque, and the Souq al-Hamidiyyeh. A souq is an outdoor marketplace, something that the Middle East has become famous for throughout its long history. Its narrow streets are filled with merchants selling anything you might find yourself needing. The war has changed the souq’s demographics, as the streets are now populated almost exclusively by locals.

Authenticity and tradition are two of the souq’s main draws, as merchants say they haven’t changed their business approach since the last century. While there are no tourists to host in many of Syria’s landmarks, locals are doing what they can to maintain a sense of normalcy in the fifth year of a civil war. One day these historic sites will be rebuilt, and travellers from around Europe and the world will once again visit these wonders, but for now, trying to live a normal life is their main concern.



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