Warwick Ball’s “Syria - A Historical and Architectural Guide” is detailed, fascinating and a well-written book about this rich land, and one that has been written by an archeologist who has been visiting Syria for nearly forty years.
With a wealth of historical splendours matched by few other countries, has remained almost undiscovered by mass tourism. As a result, little has been spoilt, much is unknown, and there is much to discover. It is a land of immense antiquity, boasting cities and archaeological remains that are amongst the oldest in the world. Hittites, Hurrians and Hebrews, Aramaeans, Assyrians and Arabs, Egyptians, Canaanites, Persians, Nabateans, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Crusaders, Turks and French have all come, leaving behind some of the most spectacular monuments that can be seen anywhere.
Today, entire deserted cities such as Palmyra or Resafa, immense castles like Krak des Chevaliers and a bewildering array of palaces, mosques, temples, theatres, churches and other ruins strewn across the country provides Syria with one of the richest and most diverse heritages in the world.
Syria's timeless monuments overawe the visitor. But most of all, the visitor to Syria meets with the characteristic courtesy and hospitality to outsiders that makes travel in the Arab world such a pleasure. is still ‘the best kept secret'.
This new, expanded and revised edition keeps pace both with the rapid increase in travel to and the new material which has appeared on the country itself. It reconsiders the history and heritage of this extraordinary land and surveys the major sites, making a strong case for reassessing its importance in our perception of the growth of civilization out of the Middle East. With its many site plans and maps, engaging text and 96 colour plates, it makes available the immensely wealthy history, archaeology and architecture of to the general reader and the interested traveller.
If visiting Syria as a tourist, you really should read this book
Marc E. Nicholson November 05, 2010
If you are traveling as a tourist to Syria (as I recently did), this is THE book to read: an intelligent layman's guide to the architectural (above all archaeological) wonders of Syria, which are the primary reason for tourist visits there.
It is one of only two texts in English which occupy the wide gap between, on the one hand, a cursory "Lonely Planet" guide approach (I much value "Lonely Planet" but, let's face it, such tourist manuals do not delve very deeply), and--on the other hand-- a mind-numbing plethora of narrowly focused, deadly dull, and hard-to-get academic monographs on small slices of Syrian phenomena.
The only book currently competing with Ball's to fill this gap is "The Monuments of Syria: A Guide" by Ross Burns. The latter is a Baedeker-style encyclopedic gazeteer of most/all Syrian archaeological sites; its broad scope means you get descriptions of many minor sites you are unlikely to visit, but not always as much information as you would like on the major sites you will see. We should be immensely grateful to Burns for his effort, but it is most appropriate for those planning to spend more than two weeks or so in Syria and to go beyond all the major sites. For those spending 2 weeks or less, Ball's book is the one for you if you only want to buy one text. (But you still might well consider Burns' book as a very useful adjunct.) Besides the virtues of its individual site descriptions, Ball's text offers very helpful and concise introductory overviews of the history and geography of Syria, and above all a broad survey of the various architectural trends and styles one will see at the different sites.
A word about the author. Warwick Ball is a long-time Middle Eastern archaeologist (with much experience in Syria and Jordan) who retired his trowel some years ago to found a blue-chip tour company (with focus on the Middle East) headquartered in Scotland, where he now lives. I serendipitously encountered him and his book at a lecture he gave on Afghanistan at Washington, DC's Smithsonian Institution in early 2010.
A couple minor nits re the book. Ball can be repetitive in harping on certain points, especially. his all too oft stated observations which link virtually any cubist structure in Syria back to early South Arabian prototypes. He is a "booster" on Syria (as you would expect from one who spent a lot of time and effort there), so you need to discount a bit his more enthusiastic claims about everything Syrian and some of the sites there. That said, I can tell you the country IS worth visiting and does have some "drop dead" archaeological sites and is getting a lot of Western (above all West European) tourism nowadays. Finally, the maps Ball employs for the book are borrowed and not designed specifically to support his text, so they are not entirely satisfactory. Above all, if you contemplate wandering around the souks (markets) of old Damascus, you're going to need a more detailed map than this book provides if you don't want to get hopelessly lost.
But these are minor criticisms which should not obscure the great virtue of this book: it almost single-handedly fills a need for those bound for Syria, and it does so very well. -Amazon Reader Review by Marc E. Nicholson (Washington, DC)
Syria, a historical and architecural guide
John R. Mcdonald August 18, 2010
The guide book is perfect for a quick reference source of the sights to see in Syria and I will surely carry it with me when I travel there next year. Only wish the maps had a little more detailed info or maybe more maps. But it is great for a planning my trip. -Amazon Reader Review by John R. Mcdonald, (Merritt Island, FL)
It's One of those Rare Books
Jenny Schwartz March 18, 2010
It's one of those rare books that delivers what it promises: a historical and architectural guide to Syria. It is written with good humour, enthusiasm and clarity, and includes photos of sites mentioned.
-Good Reads Reader Review by Jenny Schwartz
The Middle East
Abe Green September 06, 2009
Syria is a very ancient country that dates back to the start of time and has seen a lot in its day, Syria has been a Muslim country for over 1,090 years and before that Syria was mainly Christian. Today, Syria is about 90% Muslim ( mostly Sunni, Alawite, and Druze) and 10% Christian ( mostly Syrian, Greek, and Armenian Orthodox). And both the Prophets of Christianity and Islam have came through Syria in their lifetimes. The population is 90% Arab (mainly Syrian 74.9%, Palestinian 3.9%, Bedouin 7.1%, and Iraqi), the rest are Kurds who live in northeastern Syria, Armenians who live mostly in Aleppo and Kassab, and Turkmens who all make up the remaining 10%. -Amazon Reader Review by Abe Green 'Nur' (Glen Burnie, MD)
Syria: A Historical and Architectural Guide
Norman K Solomon March 03, 2003
Judging a book by its cover is usually a dangerous practice. However, Ball and his publisher have created a book that is as attractive within as without. From the standpoint of layout, the most striking feature is that the colorful plates are complemented by text pages of approximately the same weight. This feature avoids the awkwardness often found in softbound texts interspersed with photographic sections. The glossary is adequate, if not thorough, allowing for armchair reading by dilletantes in most cases. However, one will occasionally confront within a definition presented an unfamiliar word not elsewhere defined. The only other awkwardness encountered in the American edition were the occasional British usages and grammatical anomalies. "Colour" and "spoilt" do not grate on the ear nearly as readily as "awoken." But the presence of "vividest" and "have begin" makes the reader wonder about either the book editor's thoroughness or familiarity with elements of grammar and composition. In sum, I found Ball's work a thorough and colorful introduction to the topic with only the occasional flaw. -Amazon Reader Review by Norman K Solomon(Wilsonville, OR, USA)
A Customer June 24, 2001
Great information on the chaotic history and exciting past of the "cradle of civilization" Recommend it for all. -Amazon Reader Review by A Customer
A must for understanding the rich history of Syria...
A Customer June 25, 2000
This book is compact in size but filled with descriptions and information. It contains nearly 100 colored photographs and numerous charts and diagrams. It starts out giving a concise historical background of the region then divides Syria into geographical areas. The author has devoted most of his description to the chapters on Damascus, Aleppo and Palmyra but no part of Syria is left untouched. I was particularly fascinated by his account of the Stylite priest St. Simeon. The only thing lacking, in my opinion, is a glossary of the many arabic terms in the book which the average western traveller would not be familiar with. Every summer I travel to Damascus and before I go I always re-read parts of this book to refresh myself with the rich history of Syria. -Amazon Reader Review by A Customer