Damascus, Syria is considered a UNESCO World Heritage site because it is the world’s oldest continuously-inhabited city. In the past 10,000 years, it has seen the rise and fall of Aramaeans, Assyrians, Persians, Seleucids, Romans, Byzantines, and Ottomans. It is a city full of history and culture. Much of its rich archeology remains buried beneath modern structures as it had a population of more than 1,700,000 as recently as 2009.
Some of the historical sites, as per Wikipedia, include the Citadel of Damascus; the Straight Street referred to in the Bible; The House of Ananias, an underground chapel; The Umayyad Mosque, one of the largest mosques in the world and one of the oldest sites of continuous prayer since the rise of Islam, which includes a shrine that is said to contain the body of St. John the Baptist; the old city with its ramparts and city gates which date back to Roman times; and an untold number of churches, mosques, shrines, madrasas, khans, and old Damascene houses.
All of these sites spur the imagination and make me long to see them. I’d love to get lost in its twisting alleyways, and delve deep into the souks, surrounded by vendors who have been there for generations. By all rights, this city should be a hub of tourism and archeology. But for a variety of tragic reasons there is probably nothing left to see.
In October 2010, the Global Heritage Fund named Damascus one of 12 cultural heritage sites most on the verge of irreparable loss and destruction. At the time, one of the old souks had already been destroyed in only three days, and a traditional handicraft region was threatened by a proposed motorway. All in the name of progress. Also, 20,000 people had moved out of the Old City by 2005 in search of more modern accommodation, leaving many buildings abandoned and falling to ruin. So when that report came out, Damascus was, indeed, in danger. But little did they know.
Now the residents of this city, and indeed the entire country, are beleaguered by a civil war that has been going on since 2011. According to a recent article in Reuters, in some districts in Damascus, more than 3 quarters of the homes have been damaged. Some neighborhoods have been completely destroyed by Scud missiles, car bombs and air strikes. As food and supplies become scarce and more people abandon their homes, looters have run rampant.
It seems that what has endured for 10,000 years may well have been destroyed in only three by modern warfare. I weep for the people of Damascus, but I weep even more for the world, which has lost 10,000 years worth of history that can never be replaced.
Umayyad Mosque and its surrounding, enticing neighborhood in better times. I wonder what it looks like now.
[Image credit: albumislam.com]
Here’s a recent image of a neighborhood near the Old City.
[Image credit: odf-syria.org]