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Road to Damascus

Road to Damascus

Issue 62 November 2009

This mythical city of the Orient is known for its history. Joseph Downing discovered that the pundits are definitely not wrong; take the road to Damascus and you will not regret it.


Since 10,000 BCE, Damascus is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities on earth. Unsurprisingly, this means it has seen more than its fair share of dynasties, civilisations and armies; passing between the Babylonians, the Persians and Alexander the Great. The New Testament narrates that Saint Paul was on the road to Damascus when he received a vision and was struck blind, at which point he converted to Christianity. Tradition holds that he was later to escape the city by being lowered out of a window in a basket, now commemorated with a Chapel at Bab Kisan. Saint Thomas also lived here and several Popes including John V and Gregory III were born in Damascus.


                            Damascus City                                    Spices on display in the market

The city now embraces its own character of winding, narrow streets and has moved away from the Greco Roman pattern of long, straight streets. Modern Damascus is a thriving city of between 1.5 and 5 million, although this estimate is climbing with an influx of Iraqi refugees arriving from the Persian Gulf. It is also home to a thriving and lively art scene, centred in the once dilapidated old Jewish quarter, and was the Arab Capital of Culture in 2008. For visitors its centre is compact, with the main areas of interest being concentrated in the old city and the downtown area to the west of it, with only two exceptions,
the Sayyidah Zaynab Mosque and the view of the city from Jebel Qassioun.


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