A Jewel of Islamic Architecture
Getting lost in the backstreets of its Old City is reason enough to spend a few days in Damascus. Anchoring the evocative quarter and its covered streets of stalls is the magnificent Omayyad Mosque, one of Islam’s greatest architectural monuments.
It is an exotic and intriguing Syrian microcosm, a sacred place of worship for women whose veils may conceal smart European fashions, and men in jelabiyyehs or managerial types between meetings.
As one of the claimants to the title “oldest continuously inhabited city,” Damascus can trace its history back to the 3rd millennium B.C. from excavations carried out in the courtyard of the Omayyad Mosque. On a more contemporary note, this cool marble courtyard is the loveliest respite in town from the day’s heat and bustle. It was once the site of the Basilica of St. John the Baptist (the saint’s head is believed to be buried in the mosque’s sanctuary) until the Muslims arrived in A.D. 636. The mosque is ideally situated for a quiet, reflective moment after you’ve meandered about Souq al-Hamadiyyeh, the main market street just to the west: the perfect place for time travel.