2005 Time-out Diary
Wandering around Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon

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08-08 December 2005

Thurday 8th December 2005    day 150     whereami     Satellite view

Damascus, Syria
Really nice hot shower again this morning - I'll be getting soft if I'm not careful. Did some washing and decided to have the 85SP breakfast to make a change from felafel. Quite pricey for a breakfast and it was nothing special and not particularly big - excellent different bread though.

Out to visit the National Archaeological Museum about 10:30. It's only a 1-2km walk and I soon found it - 150SP ticket. It's got really nice gardens with a maze of footpaths through them so you can see all the statues, sarcophaguses, archways, columns etc. from the many syrian sites. The crazy thing is nothing is marked in any way whatsoever - so you've no idea what it is or where it's from. I was able to make some educated guesses but it seemed really stupid. There's a heavy and dry-looking catalogue of exhibits for sale - 1000SP!! and I didn't want it anyway. Nice walk around and took some photos.

museum gardens   museum gardens   museum gardens

Into the museum itself, the entrance is the entry gate from an Umayyad Palace that I didn't visit. It's not particularly well laid out inside either, there's no logical chronological or geographical route to follow. I followed the route in my book. Into an art gallery with some odd paintings - I did like a few of them though many of them were lost in the reflected glare of the sun from high windows. Through and around various rooms and corridors where most of the exhibits were labelled in arabic and french - mostly stuff from Raqqa (not visited), some good ancient items from Mari. At the west-end was a reconstructed room from a 1950's prime-minister's Damascus house - all original, but relocated. Very good artwork on the walls and ceilings.

museum entrance   museum entrance

Stopped for a shay, then into the east wing. A great mosaic from Latakia and an amazing Roman sarcophagus - incredibly complex and detailed 3d carving. Then 2 Palmyra rooms - ancient dyed linens used to wrap bodies and found in the tower tombs - still with strong colours. Some great carvings and lots of odds and ends. Then an Ugarit room, mainly focussed on the writings found. The writings are cunieform stamps on clay tablets (the size and shape of a 1/3-used bar of soap). Pride of place goes to one tablet with the full alphabet written out - the most treasured exhibit in the museum. Down to the reconstructed Hypogeum of Yarhai from Palmyra - I was on my own down here so took a sneaky unallowed photo.

Hyppogeum of Yarhai

Then outside to the reconstructed synagogue from Dura Europos - great artwork again on the walls and ceiling. Upstairs for a look at the very good exhibits (and very well set out, well lit and well explained) from some current work at Qantara or Qatana or similar. Back upstairs and over the entrance to a dark room of unlabelled statues and column-tops etc. And finished off with a photo of a statue in the garden - with the typical startled look.


I spent more than 3 hours there and it was very interesting to see some good exhibits from places I'd visited. BUT!, it could have been so much better with more labels, more descriptions, some history and background, better lighting and a logical-chronological route to help you piece it all together. To have so many great exhibits with no label whatsoever is utterly ludicrous - beyond comprehension. My 6 year-old book comments on the lack of labelling so it's not a short-term glitch either. They could at least put one label at the entrance - Here's a load of old stuff from Syria!

Headed over to the Umayyad Mosque for a look but it was packed inside so I didn't bother. Spent a couple of hours wandering around the Handicraft Souq that I didn't see before - quite an interesting walkabout. Slowly made my roundabout way back to the hotel. I probably won't do much else now - nearly out of syrian cash - just an internet café tonight I think.

Did my internet stuff and got back to the hotel about 10pm. Got chatting with a drunk english bloke, an egyptian girl who grew up in England and a french girl working as a freelance journalist in Lebanon. Good chat about the state of affairs in this part of the world. Both the girls knew a lot about the history and politics but had very different opinions - very interesting conversation - until 2:30!

Lebanon tomorrow - Beirut, just hoping the border and visa are as straightforward as I've read. I've really enjoyed Syria, there's many great things to see and the great sites have been virtually deserted. I've had some odd "welcomes" in a few places but the vast majority of people have been very friendly.

      High: the Ugarit tablets and the Palmyra carvings
       Low: so what's this then? and where's it from? and who made it? and when? and how? and why?

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