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  • March 21, 2014

Witness: Andrea Bruce in Damascus

Documentary photographer Andrea Bruce covered Syria before its civil war as well as the rebellions and revolutions of the Middle East of the past several years.

“I never saw Iraq before the U.S. invasion,” she says, “And, after being based there on and off for seven years, I yearned to know what it was like before this war.” In the case of Syria, a country whose beauty Bruce witnessed before the war, her desire is to make sure others get to see Damascus in case it suffers the complete devastation seen in other Syrian cities.

Picture of a funeral
In the heart of the Old City boys idly chase the pigeons that flock to the square outside the Umayyad Mosque.

I had no idea what to expect when I first entered the regime side of Syria’s bloody civil war. Images from inside the city of Damascus have been scarce and journalists are rarely granted legal access.

The city appears strangely normal, at first. Children go to school. Men wear suits to work. Women dance at wedding parties. But what you also see are neighborhoods crowded with people displaced from areas outside the city who, for safety’s sake, are overstaying their welcome with relatives and friends.

In parts of Damascus families of 15 squeeze into tiny hotel rooms. Homeless children create playgrounds amidst ancient ruins. Now it is the constant shelling that is haunting in its normalcy. The throngs of tourists have disappeared from the old city. They have been replaced by the almost endless funeral processions.

A city I’ve always loved has become a tense bubble surrounded by encroaching chaos and violence. Followed by government-approved escorts, I was only allowed to leave my hotel at specific times; searching for the real Damascus under their wary and watchful eyes. Nevertheless, what I eventually found were people, living in the shadows of an over-crowded city, who largely didn’t take sides and whose loyalty was largely undefined. As in most of the world, people simply want to live their lives.

Picture of a family spending an evening together
In the old city of Damascus, a family houses several displaced families in their multi-tiered home. After eating dinner together, they spend their evenings smoking a sheesha water-pipe and drinking tea.
Picture of a funeral
Grief floods the faces of mourners at the funeral of a relative. According to his family, 29-year-old Elias Francis was driving to a job interview in Jordan when he was kidnapped. His body, bearing signs of torture, was later found and sent home.
Picture of a couple living in old Damascus
Displaced from Homs, Abu Abdullah and Lena Seriani Tamer Mizha now live in a small one-room apartment on Straight Street in the Old City of Damascus. Of the rebels who took over their home in Homs, they said, “Some are thieves, some are foreigners who are the worst and some are being paid.”
Picture of elementary school students
Patriotism and support for the president’s regime are instilled at an early age. At a government-run elementary school, students salute, sing, and march in place as the national anthem plays over a loudspeaker. Many children now living in Damascus come from elsewhere and were displaced by the war.
Picture of a woman sitting in a cafe
A woman sits alone at a cafe off Straight Street in the old city of Damascus. The cafe, the Al Nawfara Cafe, is located behind the Umayyad Mosque and is over 250 years old.

Andrea Bruce’s images of Damascus appear in the March issue of National Geographic magazine. Follow Bruce on her website.

There are 3 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. Hayley Leadbeater
    March 23, 2014

    Hi, :)
    My name is Hayley and I am a 20 year old art student studying in the UK. This term, we are focusing on our final major project, a project which will determine whether I am able to study Art and Design and degree level. Andrea Bruce, from your photographs in this months National Geographical magazine, I am basing my project on Syria; but in particular Damascus. And my foucus has now changed, as well as hoping to do well in order to pass my course, I am now wanting to show people what has really happened in Damascus, and how such a beautiful country with such beautiful people, can have such devastating and horrific events happen, and yet somehow they are able to carry on. Finding the ordinary in the unordinary. Finding the strength in the disaster. And through my art I feel the need to show this, an that things are not ok. It will not be much, but if I am able to do a little bit to help people realise how privileged they are, or how we are so lucky sometimes! I am basing my pieces on some of your photographs, but then ripping them, and sewing them back together. Like a broken pot. Once its smashed it will never really be the same as it was before! But, you glue it back together little by little, and No it will not be the same, it will have the same components, and the same history, but now it will have another story, and learn how to stand on its own but different piece. Cracks do not mean that things are broken, it means that they were put to the test, and they haven’t completely fallen apart, when the rest of the world would have done. It would be amazing to hear other peoples stories and some advice. Thank you. Hayley

  2. Sue Stoltz
    March 22, 2014

    Thank you.

  3. Marie Vašíčková
    March 21, 2014

    Děkuji že existujete, dozvídám se zde věci, které se jinde nedozvím. My se staráme o naši materiální stránku, co musí zkoušet lidé díky jinému náboženství nebo tomu, že nejsou movití. Děkuji, že je mi umožněno se dozvídat díky vám realitu.

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