Syria: Palmyra & Dier Ez-Zur

After being in Damascus for almost 2 weeks I was glad to jump a bus and carve through the desert to Palmyra – the ancient Assyrian/Greek/Roman city 200kms from Damascus. We arrived late in the afternoon to Palmyra but found a place to sleep at the Sun Hotel. Palmyra, at least the area where all the foreigners hang out, doesn’t have a whole lot to do except a restaurant or 2 and a shitty internet cafe (3 peecees at dialup speed). So what to do that night? Go to the local Syrian barber on the corner and get a trim, what else?

syria_palmyra_barber

Palmyra (Arabic: Tadmor) was in ancient times an important city of central Syria, located in an oasis 215 km northeast of Damascus[1] and 120 km southwest of the Euphrates. It has long been a vital caravan city for travellers crossing the Syrian desert and was known as the Bride of the Desert. The earliest documented reference to the city by its Semitic name Tadmor, Tadmur or Tudmur (which means “the town that repels” in Amorite and “the indomitable town” in Aramaic.[2]) is recorded in Babylonian tablets found in Mari.[3]

Though the ancient site fell into disuse after the 16th century, it is still known as Tadmor in Arabic, and there is a newer town next to the ruins of the same name. The Palmyrenes constructed a series of large-scale monuments containing funerary art such as limestone slabs with human busts representing the deceased.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palmyra</a>

The next day, with my new highspeed haircut, I was ready to hit Palmyra. First off we somehow managed to get into and around the site, twice, without paying, so perhaps it is free? Once in we were straight down to the Grand Colannade, then across the valley of the tombs to sit on top of a hill and see the giant view before us.

syria_palmyra_38 syria_palmyra_37 syria_palmyra_34 syria_palmyra_33 syria_palmyra_32 syria_palmyra_29 syria_palmyra_26 syria_palmyra_03 syria_palmyra_04 syria_palmyra_05 syria_palmyra_06 syria_palmyra_07 syria_palmyra_09 syria_palmyra_19

It is massive. Besides Angkor Wat and Pompei I don’t think I have been to such a large site. I think we walked about 6kms (according to my iPhone) around the site and I am pretty sure we didn’t cover it all.

The walk down the main street (Decumanus) out to the valley of tombs is breathtaking (probably because i was excited and decided to run around and climb on top of the ruins).

syria_palmyra_18 syria_palmyra_17 syria_palmyra_16 syria_palmyra_15 syria_palmyra_14 syria_palmyra_13 syria_palmyra_12 syria_palmyra_11

We left Palmyra for Dier Ez-Zur, a city that finds itself on the Euphrates river. Not a whole to see as far as I know, but worth the quick dip in the Euphrates river and a day puffing on nargela!

Anobel has some supremo photos on his blog and he tells the story 10 times better!

syria_DierEzZur_05 syria_DierEzZur_03b syria_DierEzZur_02 syria_DierEzZur_01 syria_DierEzZur_03 syria_DierEzZur_06 syria_DierEzZur_07 syria_DierEzZur_08 syria_DierEzZur_09 syria_DierEzZur_10

Syria: Al Hasakah – Assyrian New Year & Machine Gun Man

After Dier Ez-Zur Anobel and I caught a bus to Hasakah, a town in north eastern Syria 50kms or so from the Iraq border.


View Larger Map

Why? To spend a few days exploring the Assyrian villages around Hasaka and experience all that is the Assyrian new year.

As our minibus got closer to Hasaka we were stopped a few times for ID/Passport checks. I hadn’t had a mid journey ID check in Syria so I guess it ust have had something to do with being close to Iraq.

This time we stopped at a checkpoint and our passports were given to a beedy-eyed fellow with a mounted machine gun in the back of his ute.
We got our passports back and the bus continued on its way only this time were were being followed, by the Machine Gun Man!

We arrived in Hasaka a little while later and were picked up by George, an assyrian mate of Anobel’s. A minute after getting into George’s car we were stopped by Machine Gun Man and poor George copped an interrogation. Why were these foreigners here, what were they doing, how do you know them, where are they from??? etc….

Anyway, for the rest of our time in Hasaka Mr MGM followed us around like a bad smell.

syria_Hasaka_25

Anobel has a funny write up of our experience with MGM.

The trips out to the villages were interesting and the people were super friendly. Everyone had an interesting story of how they came to be there, many came after the massacre of Simele and farmed land outside Hasaka.

syria_Hasaka_06 syria_Hasaka_05 syria_Hasaka_03 syria_Hasaka_09 syria_Hasaka_10 syria_Hasaka_12 syria_Hasaka_13 syria_Hasaka_14 syria_Hasaka_15 syria_Hasaka_08 syria_Hasaka_11 syria_Hasaka_16 syria_Hasaka_24 syria_Hasaka_20 syria_Hasaka_23

The Assyrian new year was a great day spent out in the hills bout 25km from Hasaka. A bit of drinking (Arak), lots of food and the longest chain of people holding hands and dancing 🙂
syria_Hasaka_33 syria_Hasaka_29 syria_Hasaka_27 syria_Hasaka_30 syria_Hasaka_37 syria_Hasaka_49 syria_Hasaka_54 syria_Hasaka_47 syria_Hasaka_38 syria_Hasaka_48

Syria: Damascus

P1020381

I finally pulled my camera out to get some snaps in Damascus.

There is so much going on in this city – you could spend weeks just in the old city i think.

I’ve been pretty busy working with Anobel going around shooting interviews and cutting the clips as we go. So there is my excuse for not having a great deals of photos.
The stories we hear from the Iraqi refugees each day are heavy to say the least. I won’t go into any details just yet, but everyday I go back to my hostel in awe of the atrocities that these people went through and I think I have a new found respect for the society I grew up in.

Today I was walking through the old city on the way to Bab Touma to get a van to Jaramana when I walked past a camel meat shop – run by some young guys – from the photos on the wall that it is a business that’s been in the family for quite some time!
P1020425_Damascus_20090320 P1020422_Damascus_20090320 P1020421_Damascus_20090320 P1020429_Damascus_20090320 P1020427_Damascus_20090320

The healthy chef & team running the restaurant near Anobel’s place in Jaramana:

P1020380_Damascus_Jaramana

P1020379_Damascus_Jaramana

Syria: Damascus – a visit to the Iraqi refugee camp “Jaramana”

Due to an extreme case of self-diagnosed slackness I haven’t been hitting the streets taking too many pictures of what Damascus could possibly be like. Oh yes I’ve been in Damascus, the capital of Syria, for the past few days 🙂

img_3963-500x350
(photo courtesy of http://anobelodisho.com/blog)

The other reason I blame my lack in getting some post/photos up is that I have a bit of a project going with my mate Anobel. No it’s not a helmut that looks like an afro, but a project Anobel is doing as part of his research project for his minor in Medical Humanities back in San Fran.

I arrived in Damascus and got in touch with Anobel and he seemed keen to get the ball rolling on some ideas we’d discussed back in Aleppo. The next day, thanks to GPS on my iPhone (Giant Party System – not the Global Position System that is illegal in Syria of course), I found myself in Jaramanah – a camp for Assyrian & Iraqi refugees. It has been a very eye opening experience so far and I feel extremely lucky to have the opportunity to work with Anobel on his project.

We shot a few interviews in a local clinic and people’s tiny flats as best we could with Anobel’s Canon 5d mk2 my my little Panasonic Lumix LX3. The mixture of formats, frame rates and available hardware has led me to converting all the video to Apple ProRes @ 720p30 – I figured he might eventually need to present his stuff on some sort of ntsc flavoured gear – and also the 30p stuff didn’t look so great converted down to 24p.

So here we are, in a little cafe in the Old City, smoking sheisha/hooka/hubblebubble etc.. and reviewing today’s clips.

Make sure to check out Anobel’s great blog & photography – http://anobelodisho.com/blog/

Stay tuned…

Syria: Qala’at Samaan, Serjilla & Al Bara

I am really enjoying Syria so far. Just had 2 busy days checking out the countryside north and south of Aleppo (a.k.a Halab)

P1010791_qalat_at_samaan

Last night I met Anobel – a cool Doctor to be from San Francisco. Anobel is in Syria for 6 weeks as part of his Medical Studies – he is working with Iraqi refugees who are living in Damascus and a town out in the east of Syria. As part of his project here in Syria he is taking great photos and will be presenting them when he’s back in San Fran. Check out his blog to see more of his great work.

P1010797_qalat_at_samaan_truck P1010810_qalat_at_samaan P1010823_qalat_at_samaan_sheperd P1010829_qalat_at_samaan_horseman_v002 P1010830_qalat_at_samaan_donkeyman

I joined Anobel for a trip about 45 minutes north of Aleppo to a place called Qala’at Samaan, a.k.a Basilica of St Simeon, where apparently in AD 423 a crazy christian guy, by the name of Simeon, sat himself on top of a bunch of pillars for 30+ years. Crazy people. The site is impressive – it all seems fairly intact considering its age. The octagonal yard surrounded by giant arches is pretty cool. Worth the short excursion if you are in Aleppo. We got around to the sites with lifts from passers by so it was super cheap 🙂

P1010834_qalat_at_samaan P1010837_qalat_at_samaan P1010860_qalat_at_samaan P1010875_qalat_at_samaan P1010910_qalat_at_samaan P1010915_qalat_at_samaan

Back in Aleppo we tried to get into the Citadel buy unfortunately missed it again (shuts at 4pm) so wandered around and checked out more of the Souqs and had a look in the Christian area and spent a few hours puffing on sheesha/qalyan.

P1010663_aleppo P1020004_aleppo_panorama P1010988_aleppo P1020037_aleppo P1020049_aleppo P1020013_aleppo P1020051_aleppo P1020052_aleppo

The next day we headed south to the ruins of Serjilla & Al Bara once again hitchhiking our way there. Both sites are incredible but I think I enjoyed Serjilla more – maybe it was easier to walk over and take in the size of what is there. Al Bara us HUGE but is covered by Olive trees and farmland so is a little hard to take in what is there besides the Pyramid-type roofs on some buildings and just the size of the place.

P1020073_serjilla P1020083_serjilla_portrait P1020087_serjilla P1020118_serjilla P1020111_serjilla P1020102_serjilla P1020128_serjilla P1020148_serjilla

It seems there are so many ancient ruins littered all over the countryside. Between the sites documented in the Lonely Planet book are other ruins in the paddocks and yards of what looked to be peoples’ backyards and some people live in them.

P1020157_serjilla_sheperd P1020159_serjilla_sheperd P1020161_serjilla_sheperds

Along the road we saw a guy walking out of a paddock holding what looked like a dead lamb – all covered in blood. When he reached the road he put the lamb on the ground and it started to walk around and then we realised it had just been born!
P1020154_serjilla_newborn P1020172_sergilla_sheperd

I am sure that without the linguistic skills of Anobel I would have had a fair bit of difficulty making it to these places. Seeing Anobel speak Arabic (he said he took some lessons back in San Fran) has convinced me to get some lessons myself when I get to Damascus!

P1020219_al_bara P1020201_al_bara P1020191_al_bara

2 terrific days! What a great start to the adventures in Syria!

Syria: Aleppo

Are you Syria?

Umm… Aleppo is awesome.

P1010685_aleppo

After Iran I spent a few days in Turkey in the cities of Van & Gaziantep – both great cities and a must see if you head to Turkey. But, Aleppo is awesome.

Yesterday I left Gaziantep and crossed into Syria near a town called Kilis. Was reasonably easy and only took a few hours. From the centre of Gaziantep I took a dolmus to the otogar, then another dolmus to Kilis and then a taxi from Kilis to cross the border. Exiting Turkey took a few minutes.

P1010674_aleppo P1010724_aleppo P1010727_aleppo

To get into Syria I paid $30 (paid in euro & lira) to get a 15 day single entry visa for Syria – the immigration people were friendly but not friendly enough to give me the double entry 1 month visa I was after (plan is to go to Jordan then cross back into Syria and then to Lebanon).

P1010731_aleppo_mosque

P1010746_aleppo_moqsue

P1010747_aleppo_mosque

P1010741_aleppo_mosque

P1010751_aleppo_mosque

P1010752_aleppo_mosque

P1010755_aleppo_mosque

My taxi mate dropped me at the nearest town and put me into a van to get to Aleppo. Less than an hour later I was at the bus station on the outskirts of this wicked city. £60SYP (about €1) and 10 minutes later I was in downtown Aleppo!

What a beautiful city!

I couldn’t get into the highly recommended Tourst Hotel but directly opposite I found a cool placed called the Spring Flower Hostel – got my own tiny room with a shower & toilet for £450SYP (€8) Syrian.

I think I could walk around this city forever.

Today I woke up around 8am and went for a walk around the old city & the souqs, tried to get into the citadel (not open on Tuesdays), and then saw a gigantic mosque in the distance so decided to go check it out.

The mosque ended up being a good score because I was quickly befriended by Milar who’s Dad and colleagues were working on the construction of this Mosque – due to finish within a year. The guys on the construction site were great and let me walk all over it and get some photos of them.

P1010774_aleppo P1010776_aleppo