April 17, 2011 Sunday
Day 05   Palmyra, Malula, Damascus
Submitted  by  Mary Kay Feather
Pictures - Meli

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Meli was invited to have breakfast
with the museum  guards.

We awoke early to visit the National Archaeological Museum with its replica of the Temple of Bel seen at Palmyra yesterday and the unique carvings of face-on funerary art from the tombs of the mummified bodies. We were awed by the tiny tear bottles filled by grieving family members. Elaborate hairdos, makeup and jewelry were shown on the carvings of the women.

We made a brief stop at two tombs in Palmyra, the Tower Tomb of Elahbel and the Tomb of the Three Brothers. We shared the sites with British and German tour groups as well as a group from San Francisco in addition to an amazingly persistent group of touts on motorcycles peddling jewelry, rugs and postcards.

Bejeweled horse

The incredible queen of Palmyra, Zenubia               What  was this boat  doing in Palmyra in the middle of the desert?                          Jewelry designs had not changed much                      

For some reason unknown to us, the guard of the tomb told us that we could take a photo.  We did not miss the opportunity.
We were all tempted to take pictures but were respectfully  obeying the  no photo  rule.
Not only did we enjoy immortalizing our presence in this tomb but also it was nice to be able to take a picture where picture taking was not allowed.
We felt privileged. We did keep our flashes off!!

Mary Kay being escorted to the bus with a group of salesman

Reboarding our trusty Hyundai bus, we listened to talks from both Meli and Aiman on Islam. We also heard about the contributions of Muslim scholars in mathematics and science who knew the earth was round 500 years before Galileo and introduced algebra to the Western world.

We’d had a long bus ride from Petra, interrupted by a stop for lunch at the Bagdad Café (bulgar and yogurt with fresh apricot jam) where Carole bargained successfully for a gorgeous camel-hair scarf and Mary Kay was dressed up as a Bedouin woman in black, bejeweled gown and head scarf.

We got very close to Iraq but we could not get to Bagdat so we stopped at the Bagdat Cafe instead.

Shortly before Damascus we stopped at Maalulu (from a word meaning “sick people” since the site is considered to have healing properties) to see the monastery of the saint Takla who is portrayed with lions on either side of her. The town is one of 3 in Syria where people speak the old Aramaic language of Jesus which has about 20,000 speakers in the world today. The language is only spoken (not written) and is passed down within the family. We heard it in prayer.

Many stairs up from a riverbed trail is the shrine to Takla. We lit candles for lost loved ones and a safe journey. There were many Iranians at the monastery who come to it as a sacred healing place rather than for Saint Takla. We noted some of the same religious images here as seen at Chora in Istanbul.

The local church is the Greek Catholic Melkite Church described here http://phoenicia.org/melkites.html and differs from the Greek Orthodox Church in that their patriarch is in Damascus and they accept the authority of the Pope. They make a sweet Tokay-like wine which Elizabeth bought for us to share later in the hotel. A refreshment stop was made at La Grotta.


When we set out in the morning Aiman whose telephone number had been give by tour members registering with the U. S. State Department received a text message from IRC Damascus (International Red Cross?):

“Independence Day rally currently in Ummawiyeen Circle. Even peaceful rallies may be unpredictable. Be aware of surroundings.”

This generated much conversation but we proceeded without incident to our charming 19th C. house, the newly remodeled Damascene Palace in the Old Muslim Quarter of Damascus with a fountain gurgling softly in the center of the patio and our rooms surround the fig tree growing in the open courtyard. Dinner was buffet-style at a tourist spot nearby where we enjoyed oud music (the braver and more coordinated of the group, Meli and Marilyn, danced with Aiman) and a whirling dervish dancer entertained us before retiring


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