Syria: travel books to read before you go

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This excerpt from Lonely Planet’s Syria & Lebanon guide provides a selection of literature to get you in the mood for your trip.

As there are very few travelogues focused solely on Syria, you may find yourself selectively reading chapters from foreigner’s accounts of travels through the Middle East.

The PillarsPaul Theroux cleverly writes about his travels to Aleppo, Tartus, Lattakia, Qala’at al Hosn (Krak des Chevaliers), Damascus and Maalula in The Pillars of Hercules (1996). While it’s only one chapter, Theroux’s serendipitous style of travelling is inspiring.

The StreetThe Street Philosopher and the Holy Fool: A Syrian Journey (2006), by Marius Kociejowski, is a humorous and insightful tale of five trips to the Levant.

EastwardRobert D Kaplan eruditely writes about his journeys in Syria and Lebanon in Eastward to Tartary (2001), cleverly weaving together historical and contemporary characters and stories as he did in Balkan Ghosts (1993).

CleopatrasA bittersweet, evocative and quirky account of a gay man’s travel in Syria can be found in Robert Tewdwr Moss’ Cleopatra’s Wedding Present (2003). Heartbreakingly, Moss was murdered the day after he finished the manuscript.

Desert QueenJanet Wallach’s Desert Queen (2001) is a decent account of the often sensuous adventures of feisty Victorian traveller (and friend to TE Lawrence), Gertrude Bell.

The DesertBell gives her own gossipy account of carousing with Bedouin tribesmen in The Desert and the Sown, first published in 1907.

TravelsIn Travels with a Tangerine (2001), Tim Mackintosh Smith engagingly documents his travels to Damascus, the Crusader and Assassin castles, Hama and Aleppo, as he retraces the journeys of the famous 14th-century Arab traveller, Ibn Battuta.

From the HolyWilliam Dalrymple follows in the footsteps of another earlier traveller – a 6th-century monk – in From the Holy Mountain (1998). Dalrymple’s visits to Aleppo, Damascus, Beirut and Bcharré offer some keen observations.

DaughterFor vivid local perspectives on the Syrian capital, read Siham Tergeman’s Daughter of Damascus (1994), a personal account of growing up in the atmospheric Souq Saroujah in the first half of the 20th century.

More travel literature reading lists for other destinations can be found here.