weekend away - Damascus

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The oldest continuously inhabited city in the world has ancient streets packed with Orthodox churches, Ottoman palaces and stunning mosques. Souks burst with carpets and brassware, Islamic art bedazzles in museums, and the dining and hotel scene is stepping out with considerable chic.

Stroll down the old town of Damascus and you’ll find a timeless quality and great atmosphere: souks piled with honeycombs, homewares, and sacks of spice. Syrians barter in loud voices and flash smiles at passers-by. Above, venerable madrasas (Islamic theology schools), mosques, and the odd Roman ruin loom.

At the centre of it all, the 8th century Umayyad Mosque, with its vast marble courtyard and fabulous golden mosaics, is one of the world’s great Islamic buildings. Nearby lies the tomb of Salah ad-Din (Saladin), scourge of the Crusaders. Al-Azem Palace, meanwhile, is the epitome of 18th century aristocratic life, with tiled courtyards rich with the scent of orange trees, and beautiful Ottoman architecture in wood and stone.

Yet this vast repository of history is also the centre of modern Syrian life. Juice bars offer lurid drinks, restaurant windows hang with lamb shanks, and kids play in the courtyards of mosques. Chic bars now occupy the old houses of the Christian Quarter, boutique hotels flourish, and a new sophistication is emerging. Just another chapter in the 5,000-odd years of Damascus in the making.


Sprit of Damascus

STAY in an Old City boutique hotel, many of which offer stylish recreations of Damascus during the Ottoman era. Talisman has period furnishings in each of its 16 individual guestrooms, as well as a courtyard pool and hammam.
+963 11 541 5379

EAT at Leila’s Restaurant in Souq al-Abbabiyya, where rooftop dining offers unbeatable views of Umayyad Mosque accompanied by sunset drinks – try the refreshing mint lemonade. The traditional Syrian cuisine, including mezze and grills, is excellent.
+963 11 544 5900

DRINK a strong Syrian coffee at a local coffee shop and you’ll get a narghile (water pipe) and game of backgammon as well. An-Naufara on Sharia al Quamariyya, east of Umayyad Mosque, is an institution that still features traditional evening storytellers.

EXPERIENCE a traditional hammam or Turkish bath, many of which date back centuries. Hammam al-Malik al-Zaher has baths, steam rooms, and massages in a 12th century building that has been fully restored and modernised, and also offers Syrian coffee and narghile.
+963 11 222 5330.

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