Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Corner View - Reflections

Courtyard of Umayyad Mosque, Damascus

Apartment block reflected in office block windows, Bucharest

These are photos from two countries I've lived in recently: Syria and Romania. The first is of the Umayyad Mosque: one of the holiest sites in the Islamic world. It stands on the site of a 3,000-year-old Aramaean temple, referred to in the Old Testament. At the heart of it is a beautiful courtyard in which are three domed structures: the Dome of the Treasury, the Dome of the Clocks and the Ablutions Fountain. The mosque has three towering minarets: the Minaret of the Bride, the Minaret of Jesus and the Al-Gharbiyya Minaret. It is here that muslims believe Jesus will descend to earth again to save the world.

Three of the most important shrines in the Middle East are here. They are the shrines of Hussein, St. John the Baptist and Saladin. The head of Hussein the grandson of the Prophet Mohammed, was brought here after he was killed, aged 54, from the Battle of Karbala in 680 AD. The head of St John the Baptist is also enshrined here, beneath a dome. This is reputedly the same head that was presented to Salome on a platter. Although Saladin, the most famous muslim general in the battles of the Crusades, was a Kurd born in Tikrit, he died in Damascus in 1193, and is buried here. I must say that it is quite an experience to see the tombs of three such famous historical figures in such close proximity.

22 years ago, Romania experienced what Syria is experiencing now: a revolution. What you see there today is the legacy of the past - the grim apartment blocks and grey ministry buildings - combined with architectural visions of the future.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011



Sunset over Misurata

Great advertising at a CD store

A tailor's shop. Many of the workers came from neighbouring Chad or Niger. They are nearly all now refugees desperately trying to escape.

Misurata's Grand Mosque

The Clock Tower

The Ghoz Ateek Memorial for the martyrs killed in the uprising against the Italians

New apartment blocks in Misurata

Downtown Misurata

A camel's head outside a butcher's shop. The head of any freshly killed animal would be hung outside to attract customers.

Government buildings. Italian colonial architecture

Misurata market

The fish market in downtown Misurata

The fishing harbour just to the west of the city.

My house in Misurata. It looked like a chocolate and coffee cake and cost a fortune to rent as decent accommodation was in short supply.

The entrance to my house. Note the washbasin on the right where people could wash their hands before entering!


I've noticed that a lot of the visitors to my blog recently have been searching for photos of Misurata, which is a Libyan city I lived in for one year. Sadly, it is the focus of attention of the world media because of the fierce fighting that is taking place there right now.

The first thing you will probably notice about Misurata is that nobody is sure how to translate its name into English. You will also see it written as Misrata, Misratah, Misuratah or even Masratah. However you spell it, it is the third largest city in Libya with a population of 400,000.

Misurata is on the Mediterranean, 211 km East of Tripoli and 825 km west of Benghazi, but the city seems to have turned its back on the sea. Unlike Tripoli or Benghazi, it does not have a seafront and you could easily spend a day or two there without ever seeing the sea. When I asked why people didn't live by the sea, I was told that it was too windy and cold there.

It is, first and foremost, an industrial and commercial city and has the country's largest iron and steel complex, but little of interest to detain a foreign tourist. It does, however, attract large numbers of migrant workers from Egypt. Chad and Niger. The city's main tourist attraction is the Ghoz Ateek Tower, which is a monument to local residents killed by Italian firing squads, If you stay at the city's main Ghoz Ateek Hotel, you will be right next to it. There are also a few Italian colonial buildings in the downtown area.

Misurata can be used as a convenient stop by someone travelling across Libya and, as it is slightly nearer to Leptis Magna than Tripoli is, Italian tour groups visiting the ruins sometimes spent the night there. It is the most conservative city in Libya and you will never see a local woman with her hair uncovered. In fact you will rarely see a woman out at all in the city centre after sunset.

People there were generally friendly but if my wife went out alone, local schoolboys would throw rocks at her and cars would stop so the drivers and passengers could hurl abuse at her. Women were not supposed to walk outside , especially after sunset. I also experienced the rock throwing when I went out jogging. I think this was the result of the anti-Western propaganda they were subjected to by the Gaddafi regime. The people I worked with and knew personally were very nice and I hope that none of them get injured or killed in the current fighting. It wasn't an easy place to live in and conditions there can only get better if Gaddafi is overthrown.

Corner View - Wood

The wooden kampung house I lived in at the edge of the South China Sea, Terengganu

Wooden houses, Istanbul

Gol Stav wooden church, Norway

A wooden water wheel, Suwon, South Korea

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Salalah Demonstration, March 3

The demonstrations outside the Governor's office are growing bigger. At 6pm, when I took these photos and video, people were pouring in from the surrounding streets, and the crowd was up to around a thousand. The demonstrators told me that last night, after 8pm, there were several thousand there and that there will be again later tonight.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Salalah Demonstrations

I visited the demonstration in Salalah this afternoon. A few hundred demonstrators were gathered across the road from the entrance to the Governor's office. It was fairly hot so most people were clustered under awnings listening to speeches. Everybody was very friendly and laid back. The crowds grow after sunset when it gets cooler. I'd also expect much bigger demonstrations at the weekend, which here in Oman is Thursday and Friday. As you can see from my photos, it was a very peaceful crowd. I was the only foreigner there and lots of people were inviting me to come over and take their photo. I also got offered tea.