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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Doing it alone at the Dead Cities

If there's one destination above all else in the world where you want to explore alone, and don't want to be tagging along behind a blathering guide – or want a guide trailing along behind you (read this post for an explanation) – it's the Dead Cities of Syria. Serjilla, Al Bara, Jerada, and Ruweiha for starters, but there are more - up to 700 sites in total. The ruins of these ghost towns are sprawled about barren rocky hills not far from Aleppo. And they are spooky. We've visited them three times over ten years and the first time it was winter and they were especially eerie shrouded in mist. While many of the buildings have crumbled away – at first glance you’ll easily mistake their grey bricks for the natural limestone rocks that peek through the low grass – many are intact, which is what makes the place so mysterious. And it’s the fact that you can wander through these towns and villages, scattered over craggy moors, among olive groves, and set among fruit orchards, that makes the experience so moving. (Note that the cherries and apricots grown here are especially delicious.) It’s a bit like visiting Pompeii. As you clamber over the rocks and overgrown paths, wander between simple houses and grand villas, around barns, mills, grape and olive presses, taverns and hammams, it’s easy to imagine people going about their business and leisure, working in the fields, squashing their grapes, and having an ale of some kind in the tavern after work. While the ruins are intriguing and their history compelling – they are Byzantine villages which flourished especially during the 4th, 5th and 6th centuries, and they were part of the hinterland of the great city of Antioch – I don’t need a guide to tell me that as I wander around the site. I can read up on the history in a book on my way, sit on a rock and read about it while I’m there, and, with my curiosity sparked by the visit, I can do some more research later. But while I’m there I just want to take in the atmosphere, use my imagination, and connect with the place. Don't you find a guide gets in the way of that?


Anonymous said...

Hi Lara,
I´ve been reading your blog almost every day since you posted for the 1st time about the LP scandal. Just wanted to take a minute to thank you for having such a great blog. Honestly, it´s one of the best travel blogs I´ve ever visited. I´ll be coming back. Keep it up!

Lara Dunston said...

Thank you so much! Much appreciated. Don't hesitate to let me know if there's something you want more or less of. I'm happy to be 'guided' (sorry) by my readers as much as my own reflections.