The oldest inhabited city is has also been recently made home to the largest restaurant as measured by seats.
[The Financial Times.]
Damascus Gate is a large-scale, mostly open-air restaurant complete with a replica of the famous Damascus Gate and a waterfall. Although it serves mainly Syrian dishes, it “also contains Italian, Chinese and Indian restaurants, the last replete with a Taj Mahal-style entrance and golden elephants on the walls.”
When owner Shaker Samman built the restaurant he just wanted it to be the largest in Syria. Unbeknownst to him, the completes complex is the largest in the world and has been recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records.
Samman is proud of the honor and he managing son says they plan to keep the title for a while, “so we might expand if someone threatens our status,” his son Muhannad stated to The Financial Times.
The $32 million dollar restaurant has 6,014 seats, overtaking the previous world leader: an eatery in BangKok with 5,000 seats.
The Damascus Gate looks incredible, but I have not been there [yet] so I cannot review the food. But this Financial Times correspondent did:
For such a large operation, the food is surprisingly tasty. Sampling a selection of dips and salads, I thought they tasted as good as most of the restaurants I have visited in Syria, with the exception of the delightful Narenj in the old city. But the Damascus Gate passed my hindbeh test, serving up a delicious version of one of my favourite dishes – spinach with fried onions.
It is certainly good, cheap fun. For about $15 a person, visitors can eat well.
The Damascus Gate though is more than a restaurant. It is a symbol that after years of economic stagnation and isolation, Syria is coming back and Damascus is a reborn city. Tourists from Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey and Europe have been flocking to the nation which last year saw over 7 million visitors.
[La Casa, one of the newest hot spots in Damascus. The New York Times.]
The city is being rejuvenated with upscale chic hotels and sleek cafes and lounges. The Old City is finally getting attention from the government which is maintaining its historic look but upgrading the underlining infrastructure. And Syria is also the site of great investment from Dubai.
Syria has become such an area of Western travel curiosity that The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Time, International Herald Tribune, and The Guardian have all published recent glowing pieces on the treasures the nation offers.
[The Eighth Gate; one of the several major construction projects planned in Damascus financed by Dubai-based Emaar properties.]
And Damascus is also home to the Arab world’s most impressive art galleries. Preeminent amongst them is the Ayyam Gallery which also maintains a gallery in New York and opening ones in Beirut and Dubai as well. It is not uncommon for a piece to sell for $200,000 at Ayyam.
[Al Mamlouka hotel. The Guardian.]
And with the Obama administration seeking a rapprochement with Syria, meaning an end to U.S. sanctions; the proud nation may rise even further a cultural and economic heavy weight.