Syria

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Day 1: Arrival in Damascus

Met on arrival at Damascus International Airport and transfer to our hotel. The remainder of the day is at leisure before meeting the group for dinner and orientation. Overnight in Damascus.

 

Day 2: Damascus City Sights

Founded in the 3rd millennium B.C., Damascus is considered to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world. Early references to Damascus such as those in the Ebla tablets, confirm that it was a city of immense economic influence during the 3rd millennium BC. Damascus subsequently fell under the domination of Greeks, Romans, and Byzantines. It became the capital of the first Arab state at the time of the Umayyads in 661 AD. This marked the beginning of its golden epoch, and for a century it was the center of the youthful Islamic Empire.  

We begin our sightseeing of Damascus at the Great Umayyad Mosque, which stands in the heart of the old city at the end of Souq al-Hamidiyeh. It was built by the Umayyad Caliph al-Walid ibn Abdul Malek in 705 A.D. when Damascus was the capital of the Arab Islamic Empire.  Its unique architectural style was to influence Islamic design across the Middle East for centuries.  As a reflection of the centuries of foreign influence, the Great Mosque was a pagan temple during the Roman Era and then became a church when Christianity spread through the region in the 4th Centrum.   The mosque also contains the tomb of John the Baptist.

We then visit the Tomb of Saladin and Azem Palace-- an excellent example of a Damascene house, with its simple, almost primitive, exterior contrasting sharply with the beauty and sophistication of the interior.  We conclude our morning sightseeing with a visit to Straight Street, the beginning of the Christian Quarter, where we can see the ruins of a Roman Arch.  Afterwards continue to the Bazaar.  Following lunch, visit the National Museum and the Handicraft Market in the Tekkiyeh as-Suleimaniyeh Complex. Dinner and overnight in Damascus.

 

Day 3: Damascus City Sights

We continue our sightseeing of Damascus today with a visit to the Medicine Museum, the Gold Bazaar and the Spice Market.  Later visit Al Azem school (famous for its Damascene handmade brocades),  St Ananias Chapel and St Paul's Window. Dinner and overnight in Damascus.

 

Day 4: Drive to Ma'aloula, Crac des Chevaliers, Safita

Departing from Damascus our first stop is at Ma'aloula, considered one of the most scenic villages in Syria and of particular interest as it is the only place in the world where Aramaic (the language spoken by Christ) is still used as a living language. The village is situated at an altitude of more than 1500 meters: with its little houses clinging to the face of an enormous rock, the town appears suspended in mid-air.  We visit the Monastery of Sergius and the St Tekla Convent.  After, drive on to Crac des Chevaliers.

The Crac des Chevaliers was built by the Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem from 1142 to 1271. With further construction by the Mamlukes in the late 13th century, it ranks among the best-preserved examples of the Crusader castles. Crac is a modification of the Arab word Qal'a, which means citadel. The citadel covers an area of 3000 square meters and has 13 huge towers, in addition to many stores, tanks, corridors, bridges and stables. It can accommodate 5000 soldiers with their horses, their equipment, and provisions for up to five years.

We explore the town of Safita, surrounded by hills covered with olive trees and flowers on all sides. The present day town with its tiled roofs stands on the site of a fortress that was called Castle le Blanc by the Crusaders. Safita was important during the Crusades and was inhabited by the Knights Templar of the castle Chastel Blanc.  We will stroll through the town, visit the Church and climb to the top of the tower to enjoy splendid views of the countryside. Dinner and overnight in Safita.

 

Day 5: Drive to Amrit, Tartus, Arwad Island

Amrit, also known as Marathus, was an ancient city located near Tartus, and was founded in the 3rd millennium BC. We will visit the Phoenician Temple and the spiral Royal Tombs before continuing on to Tartus.

Tartus, with its strategic location, was one of numerous supply ports for the Crusaders and a military base of considerable importance. The arches, wall-towers, and narrow lanes in Tartus evoke what the town must have been like in medieval times. We visit the Cathedral of Tartus, a superb monument of Gothic style from the late 12th century, built on the site of a Byzantine church and which was also a famous place of pilgrimage. The Cathedral is now a museum containing relics from several Syrian civilizations.

Journey by boat to Arwad Island (approx. 20 min). This is the only island in Syria, located 3 km off shore of Tartus. It was an independent kingdom named Aradus in the days of the Canaanites, and was often mentioned in inscriptions because of its importance in commerce and seafaring.

Arwad is a beautiful, small island, with a mass of houses, narrow lanes, fortresses and a temple surrounded by water. The island has a fascinating history: it provided shelter for those escaping from foreign invasions in ancient times, and more recently, was used as a prison for the nationalists during the resistance against the French. Overnight in Safita.

 

Day 6: Drive To Ugarit, Slunfeh

Visit Ugarit, an ancient cosmopolitan port city on the Mediterranean coast.  With a prehistory dating back to 6000 BC, Ugarit was an important city - ranking with Ur and Eridu as a cradle of urban culture; possibly because it was both a port and guarded the entrance of the inland trade route to the Euphrates and Tigris lands.

Visit the Crusader-era castle of Qalaat Saladin located in a remote mountain location. Dinner and overnight in Slunfeh.

 

Day 7: Drive to Apamea, Hama

Apamea is located on the right bank of the Orontes River, about 55 km to the northwest of Hama. Overlooking the Ghaab plain, it was built by Saluqos Nikator, the first king of the Seleucids in Syria in 300 B.C. He named it after his wife, Afamia. The city flourished- with a population ultimately reaching half a million. As an Eastern crossroads, it received many distinguished visitors: Cleopatra, Septimus Severus and the Emperor Caracalla. Most of the uncovered ruins in it date back to the Roman and Byzantine ages. It is distinguished for its high walls and the main thoroughfare surrounded by columns with twisted fluting. To the west of the city, stands the Mudiq Citadel which once formed a defensive line along the Orontes River. Fierce battles with the Crusaders took place here in the 12th century, and Nur al-Din finally surrendered to the Christians in 1149. The Citadel has huge towers overlooking the Ghaab plain. It also has a khan built by the Turks in the 16th century, which was recently transformed into an archeological museum which now houses Apamea's many mosaics. To the south of Mudiq castle lies the citadel of Shaizar overlooking the Orontes River. The main tower of the citadel is square in shape and overlooks the defensive fortresses. Despite its impressive strength, the citadel was destroyed by an earthquake in 1157, after which it was rebuilt by the Mamlukes . The Crusaders tried to occupy it several times, but always in vain.

We continue with a drive to Hama, one of the oldest cities in Syria and situated on the banks of the Orontes River.  It is famed for its Nourias, or giant waterwheels, which have been in use since 1100BC.   Our tour of Hama includes a stroll along the river to see some of Hama's famous Nourias, the Hama Museum,  the Palace of Governor Assad Bassam and the local bazaar (Souq). Dinner and overnight in Hama.

 

Day 8: Drive to Ebla, Aleppo

Today, depart to Aleppo stopping en route in Ebla to explore the mysterious ruins of a once-mighty Bronze Age city.  We visit the Church of St. Simeon; built in honour of St. Simeon the Stylite who lived 37 years atop a stone tower in an attempt to get closer to God. This influential 4th Century mystic attracted pilgrims from throughout the Byzantine Empire, and the church today remains an important stop on many pilgrimage routes.  Later drive on to Aleppo, arriving in the late afternoon. Dinner and overnight in Aleppo.

 

Day 9: Aleppo City Sights

Located at the crossroads of various trade routes since the 2nd millennium B.C., Aleppo was ruled successively by the Hittites, Assyrians, Arabs, Mongols, Mamlukes and Ottomans.  Today evidence of this ancient history still remains throughout the city.  Our sightseeing today will include visits to the Great Mosque of Aleppo founded in 1170. The Great Mosque (also known as the Umayyad Mosque) of Aleppo, was built on the site of a former Roman temple and Byzantine cathedral built by St. Helen (mother of Constantine the Great).  Afterwards visit the covered souqs of Aleppo, some parts of which date from the 13th Century.  In the afternoon visit the National Museum and the Al Rahman Mosque. Dinner and overnight in Aleppo.

 

Day 10: Aleppo City Sights

Today, we visit the Citadel of Aleppo which is the most prominent historic architectural site in Aleppo. It was recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986. Although the Citadel is an Islamic landmark, archeological digs have uncovered Roman and Byzantine ruins dating back to the 9th century BC. The Citadel was originally a Neo-Hittite acropolis built on a natural hill; this provided a strategic site for a military fortress to guard and protect the surrounding agricultural areas. Visit Ajak Bash House, a traditional Aleppo House. The afternoon is at leisure. You will have the opportunity to do some shopping or exploring in the famous Aleppo Bazaar or wander the city on your own. Dinner and overnight in Aleppo.

 

Day 11: Drive to Deir ez-Zor

Today we drive east towards Rasafeh, in ancient times known as Sergiopolis. Its crumbling walls loom up on the edges of the desert providing a dramatic prelude to this huge awe-inspiring fortified caravan city. Although associated essentially with the Byzantine era, the site of Rasafeh had been mentioned in earlier sources, both in Assyrian texts and in the Bible. After the visit continue to Raqqa, a strategically situated city on the Euphrates River founded in the 4th century BC by Alexander the Great. Later continue to Deir ez-Zor, an ancient port which watched over many fabled conquerors, armies and caravans crossing the Euphrates.  It is here that we will get our first glimpse of the great Euphrates River. Dinner and overnight in Deir ez-Zor.

 

Day 12: Drive to Mari, Dura-Europos, Palmyra

From about 2900 BC, the state of Mari was an important tin producer and trading partner of the Mesopotamians and Akkadians. The ruins here include a noteworthy royal palace and temple to Ishtar. The ancient city of Dura-Europos, founded in the 4th century BC as a Seleucid colony, was successively an important way station and garrison point along the trading routes, and occupied at various times by the Parthians, Palmirians and Romans, although finally abandoned in the 3rd century AD. The ancient city was built along a typical Hellenistic plan, with the remarkable addition of underground mines, which were also the scene of a battle between the Sassanians and Romans. Drive on to the oasis of Palmyra, the legendary capital of an extensive trading empire. Dinner and Overnight in Palmyra.

 

Day 13: Palmyra City Sights

Palmyra was a glorious 2nd century desert metropolis once ruled by Zenobia, the queen who dared to challenge Rome.  An oasis in the Syrian desert northeast of Damascus, Palmyra contains the monumental ruins of a great city that was one of the most important cultural centres of the ancient world. The art and architecture of Palmyra, at the crossroads of several civilizations from the 1st to the 2nd century, married Graeco-Roman techniques with local traditions and Persian influences.

Full-day tour in Palmyra, including visits to the Museum, Valley of Tombs, Temple of Bel, Colonnaded Street, Agora, Senate House and Theatre.  After lunch we will drive to the Valley of the Tombs to visit the Tower Tomb (Tomb of the 4 brothers Elabel) and the underground Tomb (3 brothers Tomb).  We finish our day atop the Palmyra Arab Castle to enjoy a beautiful desert sunset. Dinner and overnight in Palmyra.

 

Day 14: Return To Damascus

This morning visit the Palmyra Museum before returning to Damascus. Free time in the afternoon to explore the local neighborhood around your hotel.  Later enjoy a panoramic view and sunset from Mt. Kasioun, overlooking Damascus. Dinner and overnight in Damascus.

 

Day 15: Depart Damascus

This morning we depart Damascus.

 
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