Let’s get this out of the way first: yes, Damascus is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, the Prophet Mohammed is said to have declined a visit because he only wanted to enter paradise once, and St Paul converted from Judaism to Christianity on the ‘road to Damascus’ – how many times have you read that story opener before? And the evidence of this is truly absorbing: an atmospheric Old City, one of the region’s finest archaeological museums, crumbling Roman ruins scattered about the place, a labyrinthine souq, atmospheric hammams and glittering mosques.
But, as rich as the city’s history is, modern life in Damascus is equally compelling. Damascenes are cultured people and the city has some of the best contemporary art galleries in the Middle East, as well as regular performances (especially in summer) of everything from Arabic oud to opera, jazz and piano recitals. Foodies will relish the restaurants and local cuisine, which is some of the most complex in the region, while kicking back at the city’s late night cafés for some people-watching and some sheesha (hubbly-bubbly/narghile) could be the highlight of your stay.