Sightseeing in Syria

Overview by

Tourism and Culture

Different Forms of Tourism

-In Damascus: old fortified city with the Bab-as-Salama gate and the Touma gate. There is also the Qala' At fortress of Damascus and the Umayyad Mosque.
- Latakia: it is the main port of Syria. The tourist sector shows remarkable dynamism. The beaches must be seen. Located 16 kilometers from Latakia, there is a famous historic site: Ras-Shamra (headquarters of the monarchy of Ugarit).
- Aleppo: it is the second biggest city in the country. It is mainly an industrial and commercial area. Do not forget to visit Aleppo's old citadel, the great Jami'a Zakariyyeh mosque as well as the Meoline.
-Crac (Castle) of the Knights: a 13 tower fortress.
-Palmyra: Ruins of temples. Well-known tourist site located right in the desert.
Damascus swords and daggers; hookahs; gold and silver jewelry; silk; mosaic pictures; pottery; ceramics; metalwork.
Syria is divided between mountains (in the south and north west), steppes (in the east and north east), valleys (in the center) and plains (along the coast). Even if the desert covers 48% of the country, with a few lush oases, such as Palmyra and Sakhne, the landscapes have an infinite variety: basalt rock in the Hawran and the Jebel Druze, fields of wheat or barley in the fertile crescent, snowy crests in the Jebel Ansarije, the green banks of the Euphrates against a background of sand....
- The Mosque of Umayyad Mosque in Damascus. The Sayyida Zainab Shiite Mosque in the outskirts of Damascus (important pilgrimage center for the Shiite community);
- The Deir Mar Musa Monastery, located  two hours from Damascus;
- The church of Qalbe Loze, located in a small Druze village in the Jebel al-Ala, on the road to Arim in the Belus Massif.
- Qal'at Sem'an (Saint Simeon): a very active ancient pilgrimage center.
- The great Jami'a Zakariyyeh Mosque in Aleppo.
There are many period style Turkish baths (Hammam) in Syria (among them Amoonah in the old city of Damascus and Nouredinne in the core of  the "sourk" of  Bouzerieh in Damascus).
The Syrian coast runs for more than 175 km It has countless beaches: Ras Al Bassit, located 40 km north of Latakia (it is one of the most beautiful sites on the Mediterranean coast); Baniyas, located 55 km south of Latakia; Tartous, the second Syrian port on the Mediterranean, located 90 km south of Latakia; Arwad, Syria's only island, visible from Tartous in front of which it is located.
Winter Sports
It snows often in the Lebanese border (near Bludan), but it does not really allow to practice any winter sports.
Outdoor Activities
Hiking or pony trekking, especially in the Jebel Samaan region, north west of Aleppo.
Hand blown glass in Damascus; crafts in the bazaars of Aleppo; musical instruments; very famous brocades; spices (zhourat); pistachios; soap from Aleppo; tax-free electronic goods.

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Individual and Civic Freedoms

Political Freedom
The Assad system blocked the political picture since the 70's through the Baath, an omnipresent political party.
The affiliation to democratization movements is tightly repressed because it is considered an attack against the stability of the country. Many militants who defend human and intellectual rights are now political prisoners.
Civil Liberty
Freedom of the Press
The government totally controls the press and censure is very present in Syria, which has remained in an "emergency state" since 1963. The concept of liberty of press does not exist in Syria.

Since 2001, the medias are submitted to a very restricted law meant to prevent any reconsideration "of the principles that no one must attack, such as the interests of the Syrian people, the Baath party, the national union, the army forces and the politics followed by the president Hafez el Assad".

Many imprisonments are done for not having respected the articles 285 and 286 of the penal code, corresponding to the "publication of false information" and "weakening the national feeling".

World Ranking of Freedom of the Press According to "Reporters sans Frontières", 2009 report : 165/175
Evolution: 6 places down compared to 2008
For Further Information, Consult Worldwide Press Freedom Index 2009, Reporters Without Borders
Free Access to the Internet
Internet is very much controlled by the Syrian secret service: screening e-mails, many sites are blocked or prohibited (facebook type). However, most of the population utilize proxies to divert these prohibitions.
Freedom of Assembly
Freedom of expression and association is very restricted in Syria due to the omnipresence of the intelligence services, the "mukhabarates", guardians of the regime (speaking about politics is forbidden, mandatory military service under penalty of imprisonment).
Rule of Law
Political and civil freedoms are in constant deterioration in Syria and there is a high degree of corruption.
Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights
The minorities are victims of  a lot of discrimination, such as marking in their identification documents if they belong to the Kurdish or Palestinian communities. This "second zone" citizenship deprives them from certain freedoms.
Women's Condition
In spite that the country is conservative, women enjoy a significant freedom, particularly in the large cities. They are also present in the political scene holding important positions.

Many girls are enrolled in higher education.

There is a larger  freedom in dressing codes, in comparison to other neighboring countries. Even if wearing the veil has been accentuated in the recent years, it is most of all as a  fashion effect (spangled, colored, different forms, wearing it in a wrapping form, jeans, etc.). However, the weight of tradition remains important:  the young girls rarely go out at night and they do not leave their family home until they are married (no matter what their religious convictions are).

The Syrian society remains very patriarchal.

For Further Information
Report from the Freedom House about Syria

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Degree of Freedom
Syria is a civil (non-religious) state governed by a political party that proclaims openly being non-religious.

A regain of religiosity in the country has been noticeable in these last recent years, among Muslims (Sunnis and Shiites) and also Christians. Even if there is a certain community retreat, the religious tolerance and the liberty of cult are two of the most important principles in Syria.

There has been occasions when these principles have not been respected. The ex-president Hafez el Assad showed a lot of severity against the Sunni Muslims in the 80's. Currently, again, the Baath party continues to keep a close eye on religious movements.

Sunni Muslims 74%; Christians (Maronites, Orthodox, others)10%;  Religious communities derived from Islam: Alawites, Druzes, Ismaelians 16%; A small Jewish community  (mainly in Damascus, Kamishli and Aleppo).
Role of Religion in Society
Syria is a non-religious country (even if his president certainly, has to be Muslim). This non-religious presentation allows to dissimulate the confiscation of power by a minority group (the Alawites, who keep all the key positions, especially the army forces and the inland security).

However, the power negotiates with the Sunni Muslim community (the majority) an Islamic public space and guarantees to the minorities political sources and materials under the condition of loyalty towards the regime.

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