Yesterday I visited the Umayyad mosque. Not only is it Islams third most important site (according to the Syrians. The Tunisians claim that they have the third holiest mosque, and this is only the fourth most important) but it is also its most beautiful. While Palestinians claim that al-Asqa, as the Dome of the Rock is known to right on Interpol students, is superior I have to disagree with them. The courtyard of the Umayyad mosque isn’t as calm as that of its rival in Jerusalem, but I like watching local children running riot, it’s better proportioned and somehow just as peaceful. Although only a fraction now remains, the mosaic houses and river on a gold background that cover most of two walls are stunning, as is the inlaid marble.
You can also go inside, and aren’t herded around by gun-toting Israelis, a bonus from a tourist perspective.
It was formally the cathedral of John the Baptist, whose head is buried in it (as well as in Aleppo and Venice). before that it was the temple of Jupiter, who’d usurped Haddad. I can’t remember which deity he replaced. Colin Thurobond (spelt wrong) reports that various christian icons protected the sanctuary from vermin, and no rats or birds went anywhere near it. unfortunately these were destroyed in the series of fires that decimated the mosaics, meaning that it was possible for me to stand in bird poo as I walked towards the inside, which I duly did. What exactly does etiquette demand in these situations? clearly putting my shoes back on it out, but trampling it into the carpets or scrapping it off on the marble also both feel a bit disrespectful. luckily father christmas had given me some berry-scented wet wipes which I could whip out of my bag.
The inside sores on well preserved roman pillars topped with acanthus leaves, and is decorated with beautiful Mirabs, but I’m getting bored of describing the mosque.
The way home was crawling with traffic police. I managed to negotiate them and regain the flat in time to watch a parade, complete with fire, as part of a children’s festival from the balcony. It disappeared into the Tisheen sports complex and we disappeared into the flat to watch the next bit on TV. This involved a Mongolian boy who had apparently stared in a prime time Ramadan series clutching a flaming torch and riding a life-size modal horse as it was pulled through the sky from one side of the stadium to the other. the modal horse was in a standing position, making this even more serial than it would have been otherwise. the boy set fire to a beacon on the stadium roof and specially trained children erupted into song and dance. The president’s wife, who’s british and was in the audience, particularly enjoyed the singing. It ended in a burst of fireworks and the family males, who were all round to ‘help’ with the redecorating of the flat, and I all ran on to the roof to watch them.
The presence of the presidents wife at the event inspired the family males to explain politics. apparently the president has ernt the respect of his people by always stopping for red lights. As a student he even parked his car and walked around campus. Traffic safety seems to be his big thing, prehaps because his brother died in a road accident. He has arranged it so traffic police control traffic at all major junctions, though even so low ranking military officers consider themselves exempt, endangering the lives of heroic traffic police (it was me that decided they were heroic). He is also keen to rework crossroads, as these are particularly problematic. his efforts seem relatively successful, with almost all motorbikes adhering to the convention of driving on the right, and only a minority of taxi drivers taking a shortcut by mounting the kerb outside my house to do a u-turn.