Page:A short guide to Syria (1943).djvu/6

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WHEN you stand on the shores of Syria, with your back to the Mediterranean, you will be looking eastward across the great "land bridge" between Europe and Asia. Across it, for centuries, came caravans carrying silks, spices, and the jewels of the Orient to the western world.

We're a bit spoiled now. In about 12 hours a ship may go through the 100-mile ditch in the sand, the Suez Canal, and start on through the Red Sea to India. And that ditch was opened only in November 1869, after nearly to years of hard work by the French engineer, deLesseps.

Before then, and since the days of the Phoenicians, the long, dangerous, costly route was from Syria, through Iraq down the Persian Gulf to India. Then Sidon was the great Eastern Mediterranean port from which the Phoenician traders sailed to the Atlantic and even to Britain. Today, Sidon and its sister city Tyre are only small ports on the Levant Coast. In their place is Beirut (bay-root) the leading Syrian port, followed by Tripoli and Latakia (lat-tah-kee-ya).

The Coastal Cities. In these thriving cities, you'll see a few principal avenues, thronged with every kind of people of the Near East — merchants and fishermen, boatmen and camel drivers, talking several different languages.

The people you'll meet are shrewd and well-informed as most trading peoples are, with a variety of manners and customs, picked up here and there.

Beirut is a particularly cosmopolitan city, the seat of American University, an American Christian school that has had considerable influence in the spread of education throughout Syria.

Latakia, despite its shops, hotels, movies, restaurants, and bathing beaches, is still a typical Syrian town. Its tiny stores are like cubby-holes in a wall and they offer their goods in flat platter-like baskets which are piled high with oranges, olives, or dates. Latakia is famous in America because it gives to us some of the finest tobacco in the world, used to flavor American brands.