Syria has served as a major crossroads in the Middle East since prehistoric times, leaving it open to change and passing customs. The country’s melting pot of societies, as a result of its history, has led it to become one of the most ethnically diverse areas in the world, filled with a unique and flourishing culture. Today, Syria is witnessing a forward projectile dynamic of cultural life, intertwining a rich cultural heritage with a vibrant and promising modern movement.
Damascus, Cultural Capital
As the oldest inhabited city in the world, Damascus was named the 2008 Arab Capital of Culture by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. A series of festivals and celebrations took place throughout the year, including special musical performances, literary recitations, and dance recitals. For a list of the events, please click here. President of Syria, Bashar Al Assad, commented January 18, 2008 during the festival’s opening ceremony, “Damascus, Arab Capital of Culture, embodies a living example of the dialogue and coexistence of cultures; it represents a symbol of diversity within unity and an attribute of the beauty of the rainbow of human life. Through all this, Damascus provides definite proof that the notion of the conflict of civilizations is both null and void."
Syrian cuisine has long been renowned for its use of aromatic spices, vegetables, nuts, and grains, each specifically bended into an assortment of flavorful and nutritious dishes. The addition of lemon, onion, mint, and parsley as well as garlic is additionally utilized in vast quantities to accompany strong flavoring. A typical Syrian meal begins with the spread of various salads and hor d’oeurves including Tabouli, Fattoush, Hummus, and Baba Ghanoush. The main meal of the day, consumed early within the afternoon, often includes a meat dish, of typically chicken or beef, accompanied with seasoned vegetables and rice. Each meal is then followed by tea or coffee, platters of fruit, and sweetened pastries. Click here for traditional Syrian recipes.
While Syrian literature dates back hundreds of years, it most flourished during the late nineteenth century where aspiring Syrian writers contributed immensely to the literary and cultural renaissance of the Arab world. Prominent contemporary writers include Muhammad Maghout, also known as the father of Arabic free verse poetry, who revolutionized the traditional structures of poetry and playwriting and was an avid contributor to Syrian theater, television, and cinema. Ghada al-Samman, a novelist and journalist, is of the pioneers for women writers in Damascus. She continues to write short stories and novellas ranging in topic from romance to politics to the characteristics of the human persona. Perhaps one of the most renowned and well respected poets within the Arab world, Nizar Qabbani discussed issues of Arab nationalism, love, feminism, and religion within his simplistic style of writing. While predominantly a poet, Qabbani additionally wrote several works of prose and composed the lyrics for many revered Arab singers.