Our world of travel is shrinking fast – much thanks to the onward march of IS/ Daesh through the Middle East & across North Africa. When I scroll back through my photo archives to look at the archaeological and cultural wonders of these regions (recorded during the digital age at least, as many earlier pics slumber in fat files of 35mm slides), I realise what we’ve lost. Worse still is the human loss in bomb / suicide / gun attacks on European cities, in Tunisia, Turkey, Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan – the list just gets longer and longer. (Read too my earlier post on Krak des Chevaliers, Syria’s great crusader castle – before and after the ongoing civil war.)
Last night I watched a short but riveting report on Channel 4 news about the demise of that most outstanding symbol of the Crusaders, the 12th century crusader castle of Krak des Chevaliers. Like every other monument in Syria, it has become a mangled toy in the relentless struggle between government and rebels. So I thought the moment had come to post some photos of the masterpiece before the mortars started flying.
Another day, another crisis. It looks like the Middle Eastern situation is escalating dangerously: yesterday, the Israeli air force bombed a military convoy near the Lebanese border, not far from Damascus. This entailed flying over Lebanese air-space, something the radical Hezbollah hardly appreciate. It seems little is advancing in Syria’s civil war, now nearly two years old, as the murderous Assad and his cronies cling to power. But when neighbours intervene, as yesterday, the whole region could blow up.
I’ve been late in addressing the horrendous situation in Syria where blood-letting seems to increase daily. Dead count so far: 30,000. But now, as Aleppo’s spectacular medieval heart appears to be in flames or near-destroyed, it’s about time I put some thoughts down.
It was exactly four years ago to the day that I stayed there in a beautiful mansion hotel of the old city, lapping up the autumnal sunshine, the pungent smells of Oriental spices, of freshly sheered wool, of syrupy coffee, of lamb kebabs, the noise, chatter and dynamism of the shadowy souk and above all reveling in the other-worldly citadel to which I returned again and again. Intoxicating stuff.
A few weeks ago I was revelling in the cradle of civilisation – well one of them, Damascus, which claims to be the longest continuously inhabited city in the world. A few thousands years old, a mere cough down the echoing tunnel of time. It’s a city that draws you in, easy-going people, easy to find your way around, easy on the eye. Completely seductive in fact: Syria’s crown-jewel – although Aleppo is amazing too.