Images of Bygone Days in Syria and the Arab World

Tuesday, October 28, 2008 | Syria

At left, merchants of Aleppo's rope souk, circa 1920. At right, the Souq Madhat Pasha along Damascus's famed Straight Street. (Photos and text from
Doing some online research this evening here in Fes, I stumbled upon two series of early twentieth century photos from Syria and the Levant. Two hours later, I came up for air.

Though they predated me by decades, the photos instantly called to my mind familiar streets and landmarks—particularly in Damascus—from my own time in Syria.

In addition to stirring fond memories, the collections can also answer that burning question pondered by anyone who's ever visited an ancient Arab medina: "What did this place look like before they installed all the satellite dishes?"

For me, the images included both the immediately recognizable (Baalbek, T.E. Lawrence, Palmyra) and the unfamiliar (Syrian girl scouts parading through the streets of Damascus, an early American tourist toted around in a litter, a trolley line through downtown Damascus). They offer a reminder of the tremendous changes that the Arab world has undergone in the last century.

The first, and larger, gallery is at The second is in the New York State image archives and covers "Greater Syria" (today's Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, and Syria). Check them out!

Update: I've just discovered—yet more beautiful pictures of the region from an era long since passed.

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