Where to go with Syria

Anyone who has been to the Qal’at Salah al-Din (or Saladin Castle) in the lonely North-West corner of the perennially war torn Syria can only marvel at its remarkable feats of both engineering and  shear, bloody minded determination. After all it is not an simple task to slice a 28m deep, 14 to 20m wide and 156m long tench out of living rock in what is, even today, in the middle of nowhere. Adding to this marvel is a single, lonely freestanding stone needle, once encompassed by a mass of its like, now standing solitary, lonely, reaching up like a hand-less arm to provide support for a draw bridge that is no longer distended. One can stand for hours amongst the ruins of this quiet place, pondering history and war as they gaze out over the gorges that flank the citadel and stretch out into the wild, lush hills that encompass it. Long ago the din of war rang loud in this tranquil place as the rampant armies of Saladin descended on it to drive the bevy of heavily armored foreigners from the safety of its clutches. The battle only lasted three days, two of which consisted of Saladin lobbing massive stones at the citadels crumbling walls before eventually sensing the time was right to storm the gates, ordering thousands of feverish men forward to claim their prize. In the end those who found themselves standing before the great conqueror were able to buy back their freedom, but the fall of the citadel was another step in eventual ousting of the foreign invaders from what was known in the west as Outremer. Today the tranquility that surrounds the Qal’at Salah al-Din belies the devastation that has spread across this historical powder-keg of a country. As the Romans, Persian, Byzantines, Ottomans, Greeks, Mongolians and many others have found before them, Syria is a land built on the embers of its destruction. It is a land saddled with the burden of many conflicting histories that affect not just those countries that occupy the space around this remarkable place, but simmers just as violently in the hearts of those living within its borders. Tribal, personal, historical and religious conflict flows within the very fabric of what the modern country is built upon leaving the tension bubbling away beneath the surface, waiting for the opportunity to once again be unleashed. This time the trigger was not the arrival of a foreign legion intent on conquest, although aspects of this would come in time, it was an internal dispute, long in the making, that forged an opportunity created by a troubled man in Tunisia. Continue reading