Battling the Sun to Explore Bosra ash-Sham

Friday, July 22, 2005 | Bosra, Syria (map)

Bosra's impressive amphitheater
The streets of Bosra ash-Sham (بصرى الشام, that's the Syrian Bosra, not the Iraqi one) were empty, seemingly abandoned, today at midday. A few men dozed in the shade of produce shop awnings, concentrating studiously on moving as little as possible. The ground shimmered all around Julian and me, as it had among the tumbled columns and stone walls behind us. We trudged, panting, from the ruins toward town, in search of bottled water. Our checkered kuffiyehs kept our heads enveloped in a feverish swelter, but we preferred them to the direct sun.

For the past several days, the TV news reports have listed the high in Damascus around 39 degrees Celsius—that's 102 Fahrenheit. In the desert an hour's bus ride south of the capital, deprived of shade, Julian and I could have been walking through a furnace.

When Julian and I arrived in Bosra, earlier in the morning, the sun had not yet prevented all
activity. We ambled toward the ancient Roman amphitheater, which the Muslim armies fortified during the Crusades into an imposing citadel.

The amphitheater impressed me straight away—inside, both the seating and stage areas are strikingly large and in a rare state of preservation. For a structure built in the second century to have survived intact for so long, as war after war swept all around it, is a remarkable, fortuitous accident of history.

Julian and I shuffled around the theater, snapping some photos. A visiting group of Syrian guys around our age cautiously engaged us in snapping their picture on their camera, before doing the same for us.

I hopped atop the side of the amphitheater and gingerly scooted my way along the wall high above the stage, a stunt which Julian dutifully photographed.

Leaving the amphitheater, we browsed the mosaic and sculpture museum, replete with pieces salvaged from the surrounding ruins. We paused to share a tea with the curator who, like most Syrians, was fascinated by us and curious to know the full details of why we are here.

The ruins surrounding the theater were unable to compete for our attention with the rapidly escalating temperature. We returned to the new town, which overlaps with the ancient site's periphery, to find water and a ride home to Damascus.

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