One family still weaves goat hair Bedouin tents in Damascus, in the heart of the souk where the Bedouin come in from the desert to buy them. You will find them as you go through Bab Al Faraj, one of the Old City's seven gates. Bear left, and look out for the workshop at number 65 on the left-hand side. If Mohammed is there he will gladly show you upstairs how he teases the coarse hair into balls of wool by walking backwards down the length of the room.
Also in Damascus, don't miss the atmospheric saddle souk (Souk Srijeh), where horse and camel saddles and talismanic paraphernalia are still made and sold. To enter it, stand outside the Damascus citadel (facing it) and take the first souk to your left after the little bridge over the river.
Once you have walked through the saddle souk, turn right on to the main road, Malek Al Faisal Street, where you will see, on the left-hand side, the copper souk (Souk Nahassin), consisting of two, dark covered alleys. Inside you will see men making mosque spires and Christian baptismal fonts, door handles, hot water tanks and re-tinning cooking utensils. Fascinating to watch!
Souq al Hamidiyeh
Google map: bit.ly/9FNAil
You can buy some interesting-looking Iranian carpets along the main drag of Hammadiya. Forget about the antiquities near the Umayyad Mosque. Most of them are junk or fakes imported from Iran. Some nice knick-knacks and trinkets to be had, but you’ll certainly pay much more than they’re actually worth (about zilch).
Hiking in the countryside around Maaloula/Saidnaya (micro-buses from Zablatani cost approximately 25SL/.25 pence for a 30km journey). It’s possible to stay at the convent at Maaloula for a nominal sum, but be sure to get there early. Also, don’t miss the last buses back to Damascus (about 8 pm, but check on this).
Deir Mar Mousa, near Nabak, 100 kms from Damascus. Hike there from Nabak through some astonishing valleys and landscape (but beware of the local shepherds’ guard dogs). The monastery is presided over by the Italian Father Paulo. He loves an audience. You can stay there but all donations are happily accepted.
Also, walking the disused railway line from the Hijaz railway station out into the Damascus countryside as far as Bloudan (about 6-8 hours of moderate walking) is a great way to get an idea of Damascus’ modern and ancient character. As you get to Wadi Souq al-Barada, after Tel El-‘Awaameedh, you can see carvings on the cliff walls dating back to the beginning of the Christian era, when this area was known as the Tetrarchy of Abilene).
Send your feedback or queries to email@example.com