On our first break from school at the end of October, we took a two day trip to Damascus, Syria. Our main two aims (in addition to rest and relaxation) were to visit the famous covered market areas or souks, and to visit the Omayyad Mosque, one of the jewels of Islam. Along the way we also explored the "Old City" of Damascus. Below are a few pictures from our trip. Click on any picture for a larger version.


Tracy at the Souk Our first stop was at the Hamadiyyah Souk, a covered bazaar that has about anything in the world you would want, and all the merchants were willing to offer us "special rates" on any purchase we wanted to make. If you can take your eyes off the model in the foreground, you get some inkling of the variety of goods as well as the number of people traversing these narrow cobble stone streets. We looked for rugs, winter clothes, jewelry and a good place to eat--well three out of four isn't bad!
 
 
 
 
 

The Jabri House As we wandered beyond the confines of the souk in Old Damascus, we came upon the Jabri house, a large Ottoman-style house with a large courtyard that serves as a restaurant.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Jabri CourtyardThis picture shows the size of the courtyard, as well as the enormous arch that marks the entryway to the Jabri House. The atmosphere is enhanced by vines that are growing on wires strung across the courtyard, as well as a large fountain in its center
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Omayyad Mosque From the Jabri house, we wandered back towards the Omayyad Mosque, which dates from the early days of Islam, when the Omayyad (or Umayyads) moved the capital of Islam from Saudi Arabia to Damascus, where it was heavily influenced by the Persian culture. This is a picture of the minaret, approaching from the south. This overcast weather was only about the third cloudy day in our two months in the Middle East.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Omayyad Courtyard Here is a picture of the courtyard inside the mosque. From the picture you get a pretty good idea of the size of the courtyard as well as the mosque itself. Worship takes place in the mosque proper, housed in the wing just to the left of this picture.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Tracy Meyer, Monk!A strangely familiar looking pilgrim . . . Actually, it's Tracy, modeling the very fashionable clothing they provide western women visiting the mosque. Quite fetching, the ensemble is equally at home on the runways of Milan or the mosques of Syria!
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Mosque Interior Here is a shot of the prayer hall of the mosque. To the left you can see the worshippers facing the mihrab or the niche in the wall facing Mecca. The entire space is open, except from the mihrab and minbar, shown below, as well as several memorial to religious leaders. It is an open space, covered with carpets, and illuminated by the large chandeliers shown in the picture.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Minbar Finally, here is a picture of the "front" of the worship area. The large structure in the center of the picture is the minbar, from which the imam gives the Friday service. The entire front wall is lavishly decorated with Arabic calligraphy and geometric designs (Islam forbids pictures or "graven images). Just visible halfway up the minbar is the mihrab, or niche in the wall that faces Mecca.
 
 
 
 
 
 

At Elissar Our last night we dined in Ottoman splendor at Elisar, a restaurant tucked amid narrow windy streets at the eastern end of the Old City. The setting, as you can see, was spectacular although, unfortunately, the food was not! Our lack of enthusiasm for the food distressed the staff no end. As a result, we were "treated" to an endless wave of bland dishes improperly prepared. Our hopes of cutting our losses were replaced with a inexorable wave of Middle Eastern hospitality, and many unpalatable courses later, we escaped! While their culinary skills may be lacking, we found the Syrian people to be warm, friendly and, above all, enthusiastic!
 
 
 
 

Well, those are the highlights of our first real trip. Please excuse the mini-history lesson: it's probably more than you ever wanted to know about a mosque.
 
 


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