Syria played host to some of the greatest and oldest civilisations in the world and its beautiful and varied terrain is strewn with the evidence. Once immensely wealthy and considered a holy land to this day, it’s no surprise the region fell under the control of many of the world’s superpowers and each one left it’s mark.
Julian’s journey begins with a visit to the ancient Greco Roman city of Apamea. Established during the reign of Alexander the Great, Apamea provides some of the finest examples of classical urban design to be found anywhere in the world but it’s the combination of classical forms and Middle Eastern flamboyance that make it unique.
As the Roman Empire shifted eastward and adopted Christianity, Syria found itself, once again at the forefront of architectural innovation. Julian takes us to the northeast of the country to visit some of the earliest Christian townships in the world and the home of one of the first Basilicas ever built, the Church of St. Simeon. Following his examination of this truly extraordinary architectural relic, Julian discovers that the Baslica‘s design, a radical departure from previously established norms, was a fitting tribute to one of Christianity’s most extraordinary historical figures, St. Simeon himself.
But it wasn’t long before Islam became the dominant force in the region and Syria was at the centre of its architectural development. Julian travels to the Syrian capitol, Damascus, to explore the birth and evolution of Islamic design exemplified by one of the oldest mosques in the world, the awe inspiring Umyaad Mosque. The Umyaad Mosque set the standard for mosque design that continues to this day and provides the key to understanding the fundamentals of Islamic architecture.
With the arrival of the Christian Crusades from Europe came a new building imperative. Julian visits the virtually impenetrable Crusader castle of Krak des Chevaliers. Standing like something out of a fairy tale, Krak des Chevaliers, in many ways marked the apogee of Crusader military design but as Julian is quick to point out, what appears at first glance to be the archetypal European castle was actually the result of sophisticated building techniques acquired in the Middle East.
In Aleppo, Syria’s second largest city and an important trading centre for the silk and spice routes between Asia and the West for centuries, Julian explores the imposing Citadel, Islam’s answer to the Crusader threat, and looks at the architecture of trade beautifully exemplified by the markets, palaces and khans built during Syria’s 400 year membership of the Ottoman Empire. The fall of the Ottoman Empire at the beginning of the 20th century left Syria, perhaps for the first time in its history, alone to carve out it’s own identity. So far its recent architectural legacy may not be as impressive as its past but Syria is a country built on some of the greatest architectural traditions the world has ever known and it would be foolish to dismiss it just yet.