Page:A short guide to Syria (1943).djvu/7

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The Oldest City in the World. Back of the Lebanon Mountains, to the east, is a wide valley, and back of that the Anti-Lebanon range, marking the end of the fertile coastal section and the beginning of the desert. But here, like a "green island" in the desert, is Damascus, reputed to be the oldest city in the world, dating back to more than 2,000 years before Christ. Called the "Pearl of the Desert," it is a beautiful city, with thousands of white houses, great orchards and gardens, high-domed mosques, and palaces and bazaars, thronged with a motley crowd of Armenians, Greeks, and Arabs, and donkeys, camels, goats, and sheep.

Sweetmeat sellers and auctioneers fill the thoroughfares with their noise and stir; eating shops are bedlam and the bazaars crowded. There the dukkans (duk-KAAN) (stores) are piled to the ceiling with calicos, muslins, and silks. On small, 10-foot platforms, in front of each dukkan sit the merchants, cross-legged. Coffee sellers pass up and down, offering their wares. Merchants furnish their customers with cigarettes and coffee free, and gossip is always going—on crops or politics or what not.

The great meeting place for the Moslems in Damascus is the famous Mosque — once a heathen temple, then a Christian church, and later held jointly by Moslem and Christian. Since the 8th Century A. D., it has been Moslem, but still contains the shrine of John the Baptist, revered alike by Christian and Moslem peoples. It is one of the most magnificent structures in the world. Costly rugs cover its vast stone floor and its roof is supported by marble pillars.