Legend has it that on a journey from Mecca, the Prophet Mohammed cast his gaze from the mountainside onto Damascus but refused to enter the city because he wanted to enter paradise only once – when he died. In a place that vies for the title of the world’s oldest continually inhabited city, this is but one of thousands of stories.
With its position as the first stop for travellers from the east, and with the Barada River flowing down freely from the mountains where the Prophet stood, Damascus has always been a coveted capital. The machinations of those wishing to claim the city as their own is as fascinating as the wealth of architecture and culture they left behind, with Damascus collecting the calling cards of myriad civilisations. There is hardly a city in the world that has packed so much history into such a small space as the Old City. Thankfully, the Old City is still the Damascus that sustains the romantic notion of the Orient, filled with bazaars and blind alleys, minarets, mosques and fountain courtyards, street-cart vendors and coffeehouses. For those looking for the Damascus of countless stories, it’s still right where it’s always been.