When I went to Syria the sandstone was glowing against the brightest of blue skies.
The castles were magnificent, eleventh century Krak de Chevalier, the epitome of crusader castles, towering above them all, described by Lawrence of Arabia as ‘perhaps the best preserved and most wholly admirable castle in the world’.
Homs was choked up with traffic and we were almost too late to see the giant norias (water wheels) churning slowly in the dusky mist.
Aleppo had possibly the most atmospheric souk I have ever seen, totally authentic and thronging with locals, trundling carts, buying and bartering.
The Euphrates flowed calmly on the border evoking memories of school Bible study.
The ancient city of Palmyra was glorious from above and below. This is what UNESCO says: An oasis in the Syrian Desert, north-east of Damascus, Palmyra contains the monumental ruins of a great city that was one of the most important cultural centres of the ancient world. From the 1st to the 2nd century, the art and architecture of Palmyra, standing at the crossroads of several civilisations, married Graeco-Roman techniques with local traditions and Persian influences.
Historic Damascus was a joy. It was also a UNESCO heritage site: Founded in the 3rd millennium B.C., Damascus is one of the oldest cities in the Middle East. In the Middle Ages, it was the centre of a flourishing craft industry, specialising in swords and lace. The city has some 125 monuments from different periods of its history – one of the most spectacular is the 8th-century Great Mosque of the Umayyads, built on the site of an Assyrian sanctuary.
The food was a delicious mezze style spread of flatbread and herby vegetables, sprinkled with pomegranate.
And the people were overwhelmingly welcoming, friendly and helpful.
Very little of the above remains – it is unutterably sad.