NEW YORK -- Many U.S. travelers interested in ancient cultures and
civilizations have begun to explore areas beyond the traditional
centers of Egypt, Greece and Italy, and one to choose is Syria, a
vast outdoor museum of ancient sites.
For many years, Syria has maintained an open-door policy to
travelers, and if you look at the record, the country enjoys a
clean bill of health on visitor safety.
Elie Sidawi, president of Sunny Land Tours, concurred, pointing
out that "every year we get more and more people booking into
Syria, for its historical interest, its exotic attractions and
because they have come to understand what a stable tourist
destination it is."
Sunny Land features Syria on three different tours: a 13-night
Ancient Civilization package, that visits Jordan and Syria; a
six-night Middle East Archaeology program, also to Syria and
Jordan, and a 16-night Glories of Greece & the Middle East
itinerary that visits Greece, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and
The country also offers its visitors a surprising inventory of
luxury hotels along the Mediterranean coast and near its Roman
ruins of Palmyra, the Crusader fortress of Krak des Chevaliers near
Homs, the ancient city of Aleppo and even in the eastern region in
the Euphrates town of Deir ez-Zor. These join well-established
international hotels such as Sheraton, Meridien and Cham Palace in
Damascus. Finally, within the past decade or two, an extraordinary
amount of excavation and restoration work has been done on Syria's
vast treasury of historic sites.
The rich heritage of this land derives both from its location on
key trade routes and its proximity to the holy places of the West's
three great religions. Hence, the sites that no tour should omit
are the great cities that were nourished by their importance to
trade -- Ebla and Ugarit in the third and second millenniums B.C.;
Palmyra, Apamea and Bosra in Hellenistic and Roman times, and
Aleppo and Damascus through the Islamic epoch.
Most itineraries begin in Damascus, where sightseeing includes
Martyrs' Square, the Omayyad Mosque, the National Museum, St.
Paul's Chapel and St. Ananias Church.
Shopping in the Souk al-Hamidiyeh is an adventure as visitors
follow a labyrinth of covered alleys filled with smells of spices,
perfume oils, leather, incense and strong coffee. The best buys
here, and in the equally fascinating bazaar in Aleppo, are
embroidered tablecloths, handwoven silk brocade, caftans, wooden
chests, mosaic boxes, antique brassware, silver jewelry and
From Damascus, travelers visit the cliff village of Maaloula,
where villagers still speak Aramaic, the dialect spoken by Jesus,
or begin a country circuit by heading into the desert north of the
capital on the caravan route to Palmyra. This vast city, once Queen
Zenobia's capital, is distinguished by grand remains that include
the Temple of Bel, a richly decorated theater, arches, baths and
Beyond Palmyra on the Euphrates River are the remains of Dura
Europos, Mari and Rusafa; to the west lie the impressive ruins of
Apanmea, a Greco-Roman site of spectacular dimensions whose
colonnades stride out across a hilltop, and the massive walls and
towers of the Krak des Chevaliers fortifications, sheltering a
12th-century chapel and a 13th-century chapter house.
The big city of the north is Aleppo, with a grand and historic
souk (bazaar) that many find more culturally interesting than the
one in Damascus.
Of note to agents booking clients to Syria: A visa issued by the
Syrian embassy in Washington is required for entrance to the
country. Visas will not be granted to passport holders with Israeli
visas or entry/exit stamps in their passports; new passports will
be required. Following is a sampling of tours available to Syria.
Prices quoted are per person, double occupancy.General Tours in Keene, N.H., offers at least monthly
departures through March 19 on Ancient Syria, its eight-day
escorted tour visiting Damascus, Crak des Chevaliers, Hama, Ebla,
Aleppo and Palymra.
On the final day in Damascus, tour members are offered an
optional full-day excursion to the archaeological site of Baalbeck
in Lebanon, with a side trip also to the small Islamic site, Anjar.
Americans can now enter Lebanon visa-free, but a double-entry
Syrian visa is required for this excursion.
Tour features include eight nights in deluxe and first class
hotels with private bath or shower, staying at the Semiramis in
Damascus, the Safir in Homs, the Amir Palace in Aleppo and the
Zenobia in Palmyra. The cost per person with air from the U.S.
ranges from $2,299 to $2,599; the land-only price is $1,499.Sunnyland Tours in Hackensack, N.J., features Saturday
departures through March on its 13-night Ancient Civilization Tour,
which spends four nights in Amman, one night in Petra, three nights
in Damascus, one night in Palmyra, one night in Mari (on the
Euphrates River), two nights in Aleppo and one night in Hama. The
cost per person, including air and using first class hotels, is
$3,095; in deluxe hotels, the cost is $3,575.Egypt Tours & Travel in Wadsworth, Ill., has scheduled
monthly departures on its 15-night Discovering Syria & Jordan
program, which visits Damascus, Bosra, Chabba, Palmyra, Krak des
Chevaliers, Hama and Aleppo in Syria; Jerash Ajlun, the Desert
Castles and Crusader castles, Petra and Amman in Jordan.
Features include dinners in both a Syrian home and a Jordanian
home (about half of the meals are covered during the tour), and
deluxe hotels are featured: Le Meridien in Damascus, Cham Palace in
Palmyra and in Aleppo, Marriott Hotel in Amman and Movenpick Hotel
for two nights in Petra. The cost per person with air from New York
The company also offers Syria in a 16-night program covering
Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Turkey.
General Tours, Phone: (800) 221-2216, Fax: (603) 357-4548,
E-mail: [email protected], Web: www.generaltours.com
Sunnyland Tours, Phone: (800) 783-7839 or (201) 487-2150, Fax:
(201) 487-1546, E-mail: [email protected], Web: www.sunnylandtours.com
Egypt Tours & Travel, Phone: (800) TO-EGYPT or (773)
506-9999, Fax: (773) 506-9996, E-mail: [email protected], Web: www.egypttours.com