Day 8 Apamea & Damascus
Another day – another wonderful Roman site. Apamea is mainly unexcavated but the main street and columns have been partially restored. In its heyday, half a million people lived here. Now it’s deserted. We’re the only people on site.
We bought pistachios from a local granny who buys fruit and veg at the local market for 325 syp and then flogs it to the tourists for 425 syp. She did a good trade with our group, and we made her day because this trade is all she has to feed herself. Only ex government employees have state pensions, so ordinary folk have to rely on family or themselves. What happens if you have no family and are too old or sick to work?
The site was full of excellent beetles, huge crickets (different from the ones at Ugarit) and the most fantastic large black & grey spiders, about 4 inches across. They guarded their holes (breeding season?) and some refused to run away, choosing to stand aggressively, attempting to frighten us off. Brilliant little creatures.
We stopped at Hama to take pictures of the originally Roman waterwheels (Noria) built to draw water into the viaducts. The remaining ones are mainly medieval / Byzantine replacements. The local people were described to us as being “conservative” and “fundamental” and we were the object of much curiosity as we watched children riding a very passive camel. I bought some cloth from a local weaver before we left.
By the time we got to Maaloula (Ma’loula) it was dark. It’s a mixed Christian and Muslim community. In earlier times, Roman Christians fled here to hide in the caves, similar to those in Cappadocia. We visited the 3rd century St Sergius / Mar Sarkis (Greek Orthodox) ,built on the site of the Temple of Jupiter using a lot of the old Roman stonework and one of the oldest monasteries in Syria. The icons were very special. A kind priest greeted us and recited the Lord’s Prayer in original Aramaic, the language spoken by Christ. [It’s now ingrained in my memory as being one of the most atmospheric, beautiful moments in years of travel]. I celebrated by buying sumac in the church gift shop – hardly an appropriate souvenir after the intensity of the prayer but better than a postcard.
Back in Damascus we were booked into the International Damascus Hotel because some of our group had complained about the standard of the first hotel, the Venezia. Granted the Venezia had been laying carpets through the night and the smell of glue had been mind-enhancing but at least its food had been good, unlike the inedible steak and mashed potatoes at the International.