From the south west corner of of the Umayyad Mosque Souq as-Silah leads off south. You will not be able to miss the welcoming golden glow of the treasures on display here. This is the heart of the jewellers’ souq, and goldsmiths and silversmiths have a keen eye for interested tourists. A jink left and then right comes to probably the most atmospheric and crowded street in the souq: Souq al-Bzouriyya. This is the spice souq, and the press of people is most intense here as both tourists and locals are drawn in to look at the sacks and panniers of multi-hued herbs and powders. It is a place of light and shadow, the scents of walnuts, rosewater and cloves, the noise of hawkers and impractical cars and motorbikes forging through the chattering masses. I did actually find making any sort of headway difficult, feeling like a salmon trying to swim upstream. This was an issue as I had a sudden need for a toilet. I ended up darting down a couple of steps and through an ornate doorway. Haltingly explaining my predicament I was allowed to relieve myself in the toilets of the 16th century Hammam Nureddin, one of the grandest and oldest bathhouses in the country still in use. Just past here another archway led into the zebra-striped Khan As’as pasha, a stately mid-18th century caravanserai centered on a fountain. You have to pay to look around, but you can easily duck through the main doors and get a photo for free like I did.
At the southern end of the spice souq you hit Sharia Medhat Pasha. This was the main decumanus of the Roman city, known as the Via Recta or ’Street called Straight’ to give it its Biblical name (Acts 9). The length of this road, from the Bab al-Jabiye in the west to the Bab ash-Sharqi to the east has seen a lot of renovation work done to it, removing some of the atmosphere. Cars chug quite happily down the well-maintained road, the buildings seem plusher and more luxurious, and the pavements are swept clean. A visit down it at night after the shopkeepers have packed up for the evening reveals identical batches of lock-up store fronts. Following it east leads into the less-visited sections of the city, the Christian and Jewish Quarters.