The Krak des Chevaliers is a Crusader castle dating back to the 11th century. Being one of the major historical sites in Syria, I decided to visit on the way back South of the country. Coming from Hama, this trip involved changing several times the bus. However, the connections were short, and for the last part of the trip to the castle, I ended up in a small minivan filled with local people. The castle is located on a small hill, next to a small town. This final climb wasn’t really strenuous, and the view upon arriving was simply amazing. T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia) described the Krak des Chevaliers as “perhaps the best preserved and most wholly admirable castle in the world”. Well, this place really is worth the trip, but I do refrain from the superlatives he used because there are so many well preserved castles in Syria.
Upon buying the entrance ticket to the Krak des Chevaliers, two elderly women started talking with me. It was early in the morning, and the three of us were the only people in this historical complex. It was their second day in Syria, and they were very eager to discover the country. We decided to stroll around the ruins together, and although I did my usual reading about this place beforehand, I was amazed to learn new aspects of the history of the castle from the two ladies. They must have read stories about Syria and its culture for the past year or so – in anticipation of their vacation. In exchange, I told them about the sites I have been so far during my trip. It was a very entertaining and informative visit which took the better part of the morning.
After a short lunch break, I further went South to Damascus by bus after I bid farewell to the two French ladies who headed up North to Hama and Homs. The hostel in Damascus was definitely a budget traveller hangout. Located smack down in the center of the old town, this guesthouse was featuring a beautiful courtyard with trees and flowers next to the dinner tables. The atmosphere among guests was very pleasant. I quickly did find myself chatting with a married couple from France – Marcel and Marie-Claire. While I was still thinking about why so many French people go to Syria, they suggested going to the city of Bosra next day. Located South of Damascus, I figured this would make a good day trip from the capital city, which I still could visit a day later.
As we left for the city of Bosra next morning, the mystery about the high number of French tourists was becoming apparent to me. As we were driving on the bus, Marcel unveiled to me that there was a French Mandate of Syria between 1920 and 1946. Moreover, recent political and economic relations between “mustache guy” (readers of my blog do know by now who he is) and the French government intensified. On top of that, there is an important University cooperation, where around a fifth of all Syria’s university teachers are being trained in France. No wonder, the French have strong ties to this country.
The historical area of Bosra is quite impressive. The name of the city was mentioned in the 14th century B.C. Once the capital of the Nabataean kingdom, it became the capital of the Roman province of Arabia in the 2nd century AD and served as an important stopover on the caravan road to Mecca. As we arrived, flocks of other tourist buses – most of them with French-speaking tour guides – went to the Roman theater, which is the most obvious historical sight these days.
After coming from places like the “Krak des Chevaliers”, being immersed in French culture, I felt a bit tired. Not that I didn’t like the prospects of improving my French language skills – but I wanted to see Syria. Not France. Well, rants aside, that very evening, I had a very tasty “Entrecôte” with a sauce “Café de Paris”. Seems I enjoyed the French culture in Syria after all.