JOIN US IN AN INTERVIEW WITH GARINEH GUIRAGOSSIAN FROM DAMASCUS, SYRIA !
Garineh Guiragossian also known as Gagzi Everywhere is a 20-year-old Syrian Armenian living in the oldest inhabited capital in the world – Damascus! Currently doing her undergraduate studies at Damascus University – Faculty of Tourism Garineh is also a blogger! With her knowledge and experience, she aims at spreading awareness about the heritage, culture and life in Syria through her social media platforms. She attends and cover events in Damascus on both personal and My Syria’s social media accounts. In addition, she is a trainee tour operator. Socially, she is a friendly person who helps interested people to get true information from a real local about the heritage, culture, and life in Syria.
Syria, blessed with natural beauty and heritage of thousands of years, is a country in Western Asia that has descended into a long civil war. It borders Lebanon to the southwest, the Mediterranean Sea to the west, Turkey to the north, Iraq to the east, and Jordan to the south.
Damascus, the capital of Syria, was founded between 10,000B.C. to 8000 B.C. It is recognised by Unesco as the “oldest continually inhabited city in the world”. It is the second largest city in Syria next to Aleppo. Damascus is also known as the ‘City of Jasmine’. Legends say that the Romans called this city Du-misk, which means ‘very aromatic’.
The city, a living museum, exhibits outstanding evidence of the Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine and Islamic civilisations. Since many civilisations have left traces in this ancient city, Damascus is a very important cultural and religious focal point in the Middle East.
Quoting Mark Twain – “To Damascus, years are only moments, decades are only flitting trifles of time. She measures time not by days and months and years, but by the empires she has seen rise and prosper and crumble to ruin. She is a type of immortality.“
What is it like living in Syria and growing up with a chaotic war in the background?
During war, I lived in Damascus City. So I will be talking about life in Damascus. Please note that other governorates have been affected differently by war. Personally, growing up in a city of war was painful, difficult and challenging. My life goal during the years of war was all about going to school safely, succeed in achieving my Baccalaureate Degree, participating in limited activities, and coming back home alive. I have seen lots of friends and strangers get injured and lose parts of their bodies due to a bombing at a place where I usually walk on a daily basis. All I could do at that time was accept the fact that this is our life now and we have to keep going forward. Thanks to my supportive family, I learned how to be an ambitious Syrian Armenian survivor.
There was very little to do and experience about the cultural and daily life in Syria during the years of war. As I grew up and became an 18-year-old young lady, I realized that I knew so little about my country. That’s why I decided to become a blogger, to explore more and let everyone get real information from a real local about authenticity of the history and present life in Syria.
How safe is it for women (both locals and tourists)?
Women in Syria are educated students, wives, mothers, business owners, artists, politicians, and so much more!
They are all very well respected and functional in all aspects of life.
There is absolutely nothing to worry about wandering in the streets of Damascus and other cities for women (both locals and tourists).
Getting a Syrian visa is a complicated process. Can you guide us on this? Is it necessary to get security clearance via travel agencies who compel tourists to book full day tours with them?
There are 2 ways of getting a Syrian visa:
1) Via Syrian Embassies: You can apply for visa at the Syrian embassy and visit Syria on your own. Mail them for details and get yourself a LOI (Letter of Invitation) from a Syrian.
2) Via Tour Agencies: A travel agency (Government Licensed) can offer you a Syrian visa and a tour guide to assist you during your stay in Syria. The Visa fees will be paid upon arrival. Send a copy of your passport to them and they will take care of the rest. The travel agencies can generally get you a visa faster than applying directly to the embassy.
Security Clearance: Some nationalities should get a security clearance before entering Syria. This is applicable only if you get your visa through tour agencies.
Note : You can enter Syria at any official border and at Damascus airport when the papers are ready.
Would you recommend any tour operators who are government approved?
Tour Operators who are government approved:
Fadi Assi :
Language – English & Japanese // Contact Number: +963 933 543 050 // E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Mithra Travel :
Language – English, French // Contact Number: +963 944 212 051 // E-mail: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org // Website: http://www.mithratravel.biz
Ghaida Ayoub :
Language – English // Contact Number: +963 951 871 701 // E-mail: Ghidaa.email@example.com
What is the main transport of your city? How safe is it to venture out alone in the capital without a tour guide?
Main transport is personal cars, cabs and minibuses. There are about one hundred lines that operate inside the city and some of them extend to suburbs. The airport Damascus International Airport is approximately 20 kilometres away from the city.
Damascus is safe and can be explored alone.
But, I highly recommend a tour guide who can speak Arabic with the locals, suggest the best places to visit and assist you in comparing the stories you’ve read about Syria with the true inside stories and tangible proofs.
What are the must visit places in the capital?
The real gem of Damascus is the old city. Old Damascus is filled with historical, wonderful, amazing, and well-preserved places, and whoever visits these places will feel like they went 2000 years back in time.
The first thing you have to know about Old Damascus is The Wall and the 7 Gates. The wall of Old Damascus which was encircled around the city during the Aramean, Greek, Roman period, and parts of it is still encircled up until today. The wall has 7 gates which are called (Bab Touma – Thomas’s Gate, Bab Sharki – eastern gate, Bab Kissan, Bab Jiniq, Bab Al Faradis – the gate of the orchards, Bab Al Saghir – the Small Gate, Bab AL Jabiyeh).
‘Bab’ in Arabic means gate. During your tour in Old Damascus you will cross all these 7 Gates and witness the amazing mixture of history and present as most of these gates are within commercial markets /souks nowadays. Bab Kissan which is now Saint Paul Church. Through this gate Jesus Christ’s apostles helped St.Paul escape when he was being chased by the jews. He was put in a basket that was held by a rope. Bab Sharki lies close to Bab Kissan.
The Naasan Palace was built in 1720 AD by George Naasan and it is one of the most ancient Damascene Houses and the Ananias Church is one of the oldest church in Old Damascus located between the city’s two gates Bab Touma and Bob Sharqi and it goes back to the Roman Age. Ananias was a Christian Saint who baptised Saul and who then came to be known as Saint Paul. Note that Nassan Palace and The Ananias Church are both close to each other and both in Bab Sharki area.
After visiting these places you have to go and walk through the street called “Straight” and the covered souks of Old Damascus:
Souk Madhat Pasha: Syria’s governor Madhat Pasha” recognized the souk in 1878 AD and now it’s a souk filled with different kinds of shops. On your way at the Straight Street to Souk Madhat Pasha don’t forget to check out this simple attractive leaning house.
Souk Al Hamidieh: A Souk you can walk through it and enjoy your time and do some shopping.
Souk AL Bezourieh: The shops in this souk are stuffed with spices, almond, pistachio, dried fruits, perfumes, and so many kinds of sweets. While you’re at Souk Al Bezourieh and inhaling the scent of spices, make sure you visit Khan Asaad Pasha (one of the most well-preserved Khans in Old Damascus and a Damascene architecture masterpiece) and The Azem Palace (The most ancient Damascene house which is currently a Museum of Arts and Popular Traditions).
Souk AL Harir: “Al Harir” in Arabic means “Silk”. it’s a souk for all kinds of fabrics and needlework.
Souk al kabakbiyeh: This souk was used to be specialized for making and selling clogs. Today it’s a souk full of different kinds of shops filled with oriental handicrafts, wooden chairs, silver jewelry, and lots of souvenirs!
There are even more must visit places in Old Damascus such as :
The Grand Umayyad Mosque is the largest in the World and it contains a rich history. The mosque was built when Damascus became the capital of Umayyad dynasty. A shrine in the mosque is said to contain the body of St. John the Baptist. The mosque has survived the Syrian Civil War almost unscathed but a fire in the 1890s badly damaged the courtyard and interior. Umayyad mosque is famous for its golden mosaics. Scholars claim the mosaicists were sent to Damascus by Byzantine emperor.
Maktab Anbar: It’s an old Damascene house which contains lots of beautiful rooms with amazing details in them. On the other hand it is also currently The Old Damascus Directorate and for sure tourists are allowed to enter and see this beautiful place.
Arabic Calligraphy Museum: It is located steps away from The Grand Umayyad mosque and I highly recommend you to visit it to discover our creative Arabic calligraphy.
The Sayyidah Ruqayyah Mosque The mosque was built around in 1985 and exhibits a modern version of Iranian architecture, with substantial amount of mirror and gold work. It contains the grave of Sukayna bint Husayn, also known as Ruqayyah.
Bimarestan Al Nouri: The Museum of Medicine and Science in the Arab World (Bimarestan means hospital). This historical place used to be a hospital and even a school to teach anything that includes medicine and science.
Handicrafts Market and Tekkiyeh Mosque: A beautiful market that specializes in selling many Syrian traditional handicrafts products, perfect place to buy all your souvenirs too, and you can visit the Tekkiyeh Suleimanieh Mosque which is inside the handicrafts market.
The National Museum of Damascus: MUST VISIT Museum because visiting the national museum in Damascus is like visiting and discovering all of our Syrian historical civilizations. I even once did a video about a statue that’s currently in The National Museum called “The Lion of Allat”
Which places in Syria tourists must visit? Are they safe to travel to?
All of the below are safe places that I have personally visited and explored.
- 30 km far from Damascus
- Our lady of Saidnaya Patriarchal Monastery is one of the most ancient monasteries in the world.
- The second tallest Jesus Christ statue in the Middle East is in Der Shirobim in Saidnaya.
- Has lots of important historical churches and monasteries.
- 55km far from Damascus.
- Located on high mountain rocks.
- Has lots of important historical churches and monasteries.
The city of Bosra (Bosra AlSham):
- 141 km south of Damascus, in Daraa Governorate.
- An ancient city with so many historical must know stories.
- It has a well preserved and wonderful Roman Amphitheatre that can be seated by 15000 spectators.
- Other must see locations include: The Roman Baths, The Omary Mosque, The Manjak Bath, The Church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus, The Pilgrim’s Pool, and so much more.
- 320 km far from Damascus, in Homs Governorate.
- It has so many archeological sites for example: The Main Street, Temple of Bell, Temple of Nebo, and The Museum of Palmyra.
- Please note that visiting Palmyra requires a security approval/clearance, which can be obtained via travel agencies and takes about one or two weeks.
Krak Des Chevaliers:
- (Homs Governorate) 60 km far from Homs.
- It’s one of the amazingly well-preserved and most admirable castles in the world.
The Monastery of Saint Moses the Abyssinian (Deir Mar Musa al-Habashi): 80 km north of Damascus, located near the town of Nabk.
As a matter of fact, there are so many more must visit places in Syria if you are willing to stay more than 10 days.
Which is the main area to stay in Damascus considering proximity to entertainment, transport as well as safety? (both luxury & budget options)
In Old City of Damascus: There are so many beautiful old Damascene houses that turned into hotels so you can enjoy the old damascene house experience that also has access to many restaurants, night bars, night life, souks (old markets), and many touristic places. Beit Al Wali in the heart of old city of Damascus, is a five star property in a traditional building in Bab Toma.
In modern Damascus: There are many 4/5 stars’ hotels you can stay in and still have easy access to all touristic places.
Syrian cuisine is known for its varied flavors. Please suggest a few must try dishes there.
Yes, indeed the Syrian cuisine is a very rich both in variety and flavor. In restaurants the traditional way is to order a variety of appetisers which everybody can share eating.
Veg : Tabouleh & Fatoush are salads. While Tabouleh is made mostly of finely chopped parsley, with tomatoes, mint, onion, bulgur, and seasoned with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper, Fattoush is primarily a bread salad. Roasted eggplant (veg), Humus and Moutabal, Yalanji, Mjaddara and Muhamara. Falafel is another experience to eat while touring around.
Non Veg : Barbecued chicken or meat, Shawarma an adventurous sandwich for your taste buds, Al-Fattat, Ouzi, Shish Barak.
Desserts: Tamari, Halaweh bjabn, Barazek, Ghraybeh and Awameh.
Where to head for shopping in your city?
Shopping in Damascus is just as varied as its food. You can shop in Souks, local places or malls.
1. Souks in Old Damascus: Souk Al Hamidieh, Souk Al Akbakbieh, Souk Madhat Pasha, Souk Al Bzourieh, The “Straight” street, Emerieh.
Note: The souks in Old Damascus usually close on Fridays.
2. Local shopping places in “Modern Damascus”: “Kasaa” (most shops in Kasaa close on Sundays). ” Hamra”,” Salhieh”,” Abou Remmaneh” (shops in Hamra street, Salhieh, and Abu Remmaneh close on Fridays)
3. Malls in Damascus: Damasquino Mall, Cham City Center, Up Town Palace, Qassion Mall, City Mall, La Mirada Mall.
What local crafts and souvenirs one can learn to make or collect from the city? Anything that one must bring home from Syria?
There are so many Syrian crafts that one can learn to make or watch or collect from the city such as:
Glass Making (you can watch this video I did about it in Damascus, Brocade, Silk production and its traditional manufacture, textile industry, leather and carpentry industry, Damask (Ajami) paint, Kishani industry, Gold and silver Industry, Mosaics, Pottery, and Arabic Calligraphy.
One must bring home from Syria very wide range of handmade artisans.
Are there any events or festivals in Damascus around which tourists should plan their holiday to feel the local culture?
Yes, there are many events or festivals happening in Damascus from time to time and for sure tourists should plan their holiday to feel our Syrian Culture. In fact, there are so many cultural places to visit in Damascus such as Damascus Opera House, The National Center for Visual Arts, Zawaya Art Gallery, “Heritage Through Art” Atelier …. And so much more …
NOTE – The cultural places in Damascus usually announce their events on a monthly basis.
Any list of do’s and don’ts in Syria that one should respect and follow? As a local would you want to give any suggestion/tip to tourists coming to your city?
1. Do have a guide with you. It will be an authentic journey, you will enjoy more with our friendly and hospitable Syrian guides.
2. Do try to taste our delicious Syrian cuisine.
3. Do buy souvenirs from craft shops because this is a simple gesture from you to help Syrian people recover from the war.
4. Do listen & trust your guide.
1. Don’t take pictures when you’re at a check point or military bases.
2. And most importantly, don’t miss your chance to visit Syria.
Things To Know :
Currency : Syrian Pound (SYP).
Travel Insurance : IATI Insurance is the only travel insurance company that provides cover for travel in Syria.
How to Reach : The connection to Damascus International Airport (DAM) is improving. You can also reach Syria by road from neighbouring countries.
By Air : Cham Wings Airlines and Syrian Air. Cham Wings Airlines flies from Damascus to Amman (Jordan), Sharjah (UEA), Moscow (Russia), Kuwait, Muscat (Oman) Ebril (Iraq Kurdistan), Yerevan (Armenia), Beirut (Lebanon), Baghdad, Basra, Najaf (Iraq), Khartoum (Sudan) and Tehran (Iran). Syrian Air flies from Damascus to Dubai (UEA), Kuwait, Doha (Qatar) and Algiers (Algeria).
By Road : From Beirut (115km from Damascus and the journey takes between 2 to 4 hours) take a taxi/shared taxi to reach Damascus. From Amman (200km from Damascus and the journey takes longer).
Wi-Fi : Internet works well across the country. Most hotels and higher end restaurants and coffee shops/bars have free WIFI
IF YOU ARE TRAVELLING TO DAMASCUS OR WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT GARINEH’S TRAVEL EXPERIENCES THEN BE SURE TO FOLLOW HER ON INSTAGRAM/FACEBOOK
All information provided here are by a Damascus local but things are unstable and change fast in Syria. Hence, travel advice depends largely on the current happenings in Syria. Hear It From Locals doesn’t take any responsibility for whatever may happen to you during your visit to Syria.