Red light District of Damascus

As I entered the city and saw the sign “Damascus”, I was so glad. I finally arrived in Damascus. Hurrah!

Damascus is the capital of Republic Arab of Syria. It is one of the cities in the world that has been continually inhabitated for nearly 4000 years! Yes, Damascus is one of the ancient cities in the world. Among Arab people, the city is popularly called Shams.

Different rulers have controlled the city, from the Aramaic Kingdoms in the first millenium of BC, Greco-Roman Empire–Philip the Arab was one of the Roman Emperors that came from the present day Syria, Umayyid Empire, Seljuq Empire, Ayubbid Empire, Mamluk Empire, Ottoman Empire, French occupation, and now Assad.

All these empires have contributed to the current cultural life and demography of Syria. Syria was independent from French in 1946 as a republic. The current President Bashar al Assad was the son of former President Hafez al Assad who took power in a coup in 1970. Assad is from Arab Socialist Baath Party as such Syria is one of the few secular countries in the  Arab world.

How secular is Syria? Well,  Basil and I took the public bus to the Old City from where we got out the shared taxi. In the bus, there was no division between women and men. Just like in Jordan, men culturally give the women first when there is a free seat.

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Honestly, it was an not a well-planned trip. We have not reserved a room. We got out in a Circle and I was sure it was part of the Old City. Although this part looked old fashioned, I was mesmerized with the atmosphere, old buildings, some of them have art deco architecture, old yellow taxis roaming around, shops by the road, it is as if I was in different world, returning to ten of years behind.

We didn’t bring any map either. I just brought some copied pages of Lonely planet on Damascus. Worse than that, Basil was reluctant to ask people about the reasonable hotels nearby.  I blamed myself for not speaking any Arabic. We browsed some hotels but they were out of the budget because we needed to have two separate rooms. The tradition is so strong that only an official couple can stay together. That is the formal rule.

We ended up in Al Marjeh Square area. In terms of location it is strategic, only walking distance to Souq Hamiddiyeh, the old market of Old Damascus. And you can find any kind of shops here. It was a busy  commercial area.

Demographically in Damascus people from different kind of ethnics lived there. In 2009, there was about 1.7 million inhabitants of Arab, African, Afro-Arab, Kurdish and Caucasian Arab blood.

I forgot the name of my hotel, but it was located right by the pedestrian street near Al Marjeh Square. I definitely would  not stay there when I traveled by myself, just because Basil was with me so I was a bit comfortable. The first floor was an all men longue where they played chess, drank coffee or tea, smoked while some music was played.  I could see clearly the smoke filled the big room. I was sure it was not a family nor business hotel.

My room was on the second floor. It was not a fancy one, but the bed sheet and bathroom were clean. When I opened the window, the view was not entertaining. I could only saw the roofs of neighboring shops. Basil stayed in the opposite room where the window overlooked the street. That was much more interesting. “Lock the door Iji, always lock it even though you are in the room,” he warned me. Lonely Planet said that women should not go out alone at night in Al Marjeh Square as it is red light district area. But I was hungry at night so I decided to go out to find a food vendor nearby.

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