Quick Visit to Post War Syria


I’m not ready to declare Syria war free, but the south especially Damascus is quite safe now and with news of other travelers getting visas and some of the most exclusive visits to the war torn country of Syria had me fascinated. I was able to get over there in December before the news of the Iran and Iraq bombing and conflicts.

I missed seeing Syria about 11 years ago and it’s been high on my list of places to visit ever since.

The pure destruction of city after city makes the horror, so more real.

I learned a long time ago a place doesn’t really seem to exist until after you’ve visited it. It’s almost imaginary. When you see the destruction first hand and meet refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Turkey, and across Europe the statistics are no longer just numbers, they become meaningful. According to the UN: Pre-war population of the Syrian Arab Republic was estimated at 22 million. There are more than 6 million displaced internally and over 6 million refugees outside the country with most of them in Turkey, and large populations in Lebanon, Jordan, and Egypt.

The damage not just to a few buildings was visible. Entire cities, mile after mile were absolutely devastated and in rubble.

No Walls in Building after Building

Before you’re convinced there’s nothing worth seeing, let me quickly correct you. I visited two very impressive and amazing places.

I visited Krac de Chevalier Castle and was very impressed with how well the Crusader castle has held together. It is absolutely a stronghold and an impressive edifice on the top of the hill not far from Homs, Syria.

Krac de Chevaliers

While we visited the castle I was impressed by the size and scale of the castle… it’s so huge!! It’s really a castle within a castle within a stronghold complete with moat, drawbridge, and sheer cliffs. The outer towers are setup to drop vats of hot oil and shoot arrows at invaders. It’s very impressive. It could accomodate 2000 knights. It was built back in 1142 and is a UNESCO world heritage site.

I also visited old city Damascus. Damascus has a very very long history. It was there that I found out that in Islam they say Jesus will return to Damascus in Saffron robes. The new show Messiah on Netflix starts out episode one with that premise. Great show. Saw it immediately after I got back.

Umayyad Mosque

Old Basilica of St John the Baptist; Umayyad Mosque. It used to be the Basilica of St John the Baptist before the conquest of the Ummayad Caliphate. There is a green clothed covered tomb inside which apparently contains John the Baptist’s head.

Tomb of John the Baptist’s Head

Wandering the old city was not intimidating at all. It was fascinating to see the people from all walks of life. Everyone bustling about and headed to various places. There are some great antique shops, crafts, and collections. It was a quick, but worthwhile trip. I hope to get back soon. There’s more I’d like to see. I hope nothing more than for peace on earth, peace in the middle east. My driver and guide were great.

Cappadocia Turkey: Underground Cities and Cave Churches

Cave Houses and Ferry Chimneys

Cave Houses and Ferry Chimneys
Cave Houses and Ferry Chimneys

When I first learned about Cappadocia, I was up late watching a late night Sci Fi show on Ancient Alien God theory.  The spokey of underground cities where 20,000 people could live in caves.  The spoke cave cities of 13 levels deep and how for thousands of years these caves had lasted time.  No one really knows how old these caves are… you can’t carbon date a cave.  They think they are at least 1700-2000 years old.  These caves helped save Christianity at a time where it was illegal and the Romans were looking to wipe it out!  How do we know?  There are hundreds of early 3rd and 4th century cathedrals built by these Christians.  IMG_6663They went on to say there are 36 such cities that could support a hundreds of thousands of people…. underground!  Some cities are connected by 9 KM tunnels.  Only 10% of the caves had even been excavated.  What!!?  Seems to me like we’d learn more about ourselves and where we came from if we knew more about these caves.  Why have I not heard of such an incredible place before?  I immediately added it to my list.  About 6 months later, when I was planning a trip to Sofia, Bulgaria I remembered these incredible stories and decided… I must go.  I priced it out and for less than $200 I could visit this place.  You can fly to within an hour of the place.  I decided I needed to see how much of this was real.  Much to my surprise, these crazy facts were real!  I read as much as I could and gasped at the amazing pictures on any image search.  I dare you to look.  If you’re a world traveller, you’ll immediately add this to your list, and if not it will be a bucket list item.  Don’t wait till you’re too old for this one.  Remember there’s hiking and walking in caves.  You don’t want to hurt your back.

How this destination of underground city supports a population larger than most civilizations at the time still boggles my mind.  No way.  Too incredible.  Who wiped out these ancient people?  Who were they, what did they believe?  Was it an attempt to escape an alien overlord?  Doesn’t matter.  Despite whether you believe aliens built the multiple thousand year old tunnels or believe it was the Hittites an ancient civilization that’s no longer around, the mystery of these crazy tunnels and underground cities are no less of a wonder.  There’s a lot you can read about Derinkuyu, the largest underground city in the world, less than 30 minute drive from Goreme.  562343_10150787036148783_613898782_11776192_940521962_n[1]It’s only been available for tours since 1969.  There are plenty of tours that take you on organized tours or you can rent a car and take it at your pace.  The tunnels are excavated.  I went 8 levels deep on my tour and there were at least 4 or 5 tunnels that went off into the dark, one such tunnel my guide explained went to the next city.  In the underground city you’ll find a winery, church, animal stalls, wells, ancient phone system, ventilation shafts,  and a morgue.  I visited all of these places on my tour.

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