"The Eye of the Whole East"
"The silent gardens blurred green with river mist, in whose setting shimmered the city, beautiful as ever, like a pearl in the morning sun"
Damascus is known to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world. There is firm evidence that in the third millennium BC, Damascus was a population center of a civilization that was considerably prosperous and economically influential. The earliest reference to the city was found in the archaeological site of Ebla in 1975; where the word "Damaski" was found on one of the clay tablets. Some historians believe that the city actually dates back to the seventh millennium BC.
Controversial explanations have been made to guess the etymological origin of the name of the Syrian capital city. Some hold that “damashaq” means the fast-moving camel and the name was given because the building of the city was completed swiftly. Others believe it was named after Damashaq the great grandson of Sam son of Noah, who built the city.
Still others presume that the Romans called it “Dumuskus” which means the double musk. Or perhaps the name was taken from Hermes son in Greek mythology that came over to Syria. In Aramean the name might have been derived from Dermask or dersauk as (E deim) means land and (mask) means (red) in Syrian.
Whatever the etymological origin of the word, Damascus remains, as ever "the eye of the whole east" as the Roman Julianus described the greatness of the city.
Under the Roman it was a chief town, and later the fortress of Bilad-Al-Sham, and the passage to Mecca, the pavilion of all Muslims and God’s paradise on earth have never seen anything so extensive as its orchard, as good as its fruits and so plentiful as its water.
It is said the water is so abundant that a fountain can be found in every house.
Some historical sources say that the name of Damashaq (Damascus) is derived from the Aramaic word (dam shaq) which means a town built on the rock where the blood of Mash, the fourth son of Aram Bin Sam Bin Noah, flowed soon after a heavy blow by his brother Aws deeply cut Mash’s head. The fight between the two brothers broke out when they could not come into agreement on the name of the new town, some historians had different illustrations with regard to the name of (Dimashaq).
The old city of Damascus still preserves its graphical and historical aspects, the high wall, which protects the old city of Damascus, is crystal clear until today.
Geographically, Damascus is situated in the southwestern corner of Syria. It is built at the foot of a buttress of the Anti-Lebanon, Mount Kassioun, and at the border of a fertile plain, the Ghouta. It is situated just a two-hour drive away from the Lebanese capital Beirut and the Jordanian border, and about the same from the temporary Israeli border at the Golan Heights. The villages of Maaloula and Seidnaya are less than an hour away, and so is the Mosque of Al Sayidah Zeinab.
The Damascus Citadel
This citadel stands at the northwest corner of the Old City. It is much smaller than that of Aleppo, and is the only citadel in Syria that is on the same level as the rest of the city.
The Roman castrum or military camp was here, and it was probably a stronghold before that. What remains to be seen today dates back to the Ayyubid and Mameluke periods, when Sultan al Adil used this fortification to preserve Damascus against the Crusaders and Mongols in the 13th century.
In 1260 however it was destroyed by the first Mongol invasion. It was rebuilt by the Mameluke Sultan Baybars, who made sure that the original 16 towers and walls were rebuilt. However, it was to be heavily knocked down by the second Mongol invasion in 1400 by Tamerlane. The Ottomans did not really pay much attention to it and it was only slightly repaired.
It cannot be entered at the present because of heavy reconstruction and excavation work, which will hopefully uncover its mysterious history.
The Barada Valley
Flowing from the Anti Lebanon mountain range into and through Damascus, the Barada River is an important source for Damascus. In fact, it is one of the main reasons for Damascus' s existence.
Many Damascenes travel up into the mountains, to the valley of Barada to enjoy the fresh air, and the running water. Ain el Figeh where restaurants line up on the riverside of a spring that used to be a source for drinking water and Souk Wadi Barada where Abel's tomb is said to be (opposing the idea that he is buried in Kassioun), are very popular places.
However Zabadani and Bloudan are the most favorite.
This resort, lying 1200 meters in altitude and 50 Km from Damascus, gets extremely busy in the summer. Visitors generally come here to escape the summer heat of the city. From here you can visit the lake, which is Barada's source and the beautiful plain of Zabadani, which is planted with apricot, apple and walnut trees.
Further up into the mountains is Bloudan, a resort more than 1400 meters in altitude. It is much cooler in this village, and many springs are found in this area. The famous spring of Boukein is located in this area, and is the source of the biggest bottled mineral water company, Boukein.
Some Syrian Proverbs:
If you want to confuse him, give him a choice
Let your money be insulted but not yourself
When we decided to trade coffins, people decided not to die!
When the lions are away, the hyenas play
Whoever gets between the onion and its skin will get nothing but its stink
Spend what is in your pocket, you will get more from the unknown
Patience is the key to relief
A beggar and he bargains!
By Heba Hossam