The cab takes them up the Qasyun — lovers, young people, a few tourists. The view over the city — perhaps the oldest in the world — is breathtaking.

Coffee, tea and oranges are sold out of scrap minibuses, the shisha is lit. At the edge of the panorama, on a rock above the Arab metropolis, the presidential palace. Behind it, as far as the eye can see, is a restricted military zone and a huge new city.

Machine gun fire echoes disconcertingly from the nearby mountains on the border.
A carpet of sounds from the singing of the muezzins lies peacefully over the plain.
Damascus — paradise on earth.