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Jisr al Shugur

There are not many bridges across the Nahr al Assi - literally "Rebel River", known to non-Arabic speakers as the

"Orontes River" - along the corridor down which it flows between the coastal range to the west and the Zaouiyeh to the east. There is one at Shaizar, one on the road to Misyaf, one opposite Qalaat al Mudiq and another some fifty kilometers further north, at Jisr al Shughour. This lack of bridges was because of the river’s liability to sudden flooding, which produced the marshes that until so recently marked its course. Consequently places where there was a river crossing tended to become places of some consequence. Hence the importance of Jisr al Shughour, which was also ideally situated on the route from Aleppo to the coast.

The town has a wonderful position and appeals to the visitors by begin in itself quite picturesque.

After passing through the orchards of Idlib and making a steep descent around an arid spur of the Zaouiyeh, the road from Aleppo suddenly confronts us with a considerable township - a mass of small houses with green, blue and even violet plaster on their walls, ranged on terraces down a hillside still crowned by the remains of a defensive fort. At its foot the Orontes flows between banks of greenery; its dancing waters are delight of the small boys of the place all the summer long.

There is a bridge - the bridge - with a bend in the middle, to strengthen it against the strong current . From Roman times there has been a road across the river at this point. Since then the piers of the bridge have been repaired and reinforced in many different materials. It remains a handsome structure and fits perfectly into the landscape.

The economic importance of Jisr al Shughour can only increase during the coming years. Not so much now as keeper of an important bridge but as a natural link between the Ghab and the natural outlets for its new riches.

It is said that the Pharaoh Tutmose III used to come to hunt elephant in this humid valley, and that, a thousand years later, Hannibal taught the Syrian how to use the great beasts in war. Over the centuries this unhealthy plain was famous as an open door to invaders and also for the abundance of fish to be found in its fluctuating waters.

Around 1970, things changed. The task of making the middle reaches of the Nahr al Assi valley healthy and fertile was one of the first that the new state of Syria set itself.

Embankments were built a long 60 kilometers of the river’s course. Two dams were built to complete the effect of the lake at Homs - at Rastan, between Homs and Hama, and at Muhardeh, upstream from Shaizar. Hundreds of subsidiary canals drained the land and redistributed the waters; kilometers of concrete drains are still being laid, the roads are being improved. The result of all this is the attractive checkered landscape of yellow, green and red that can now be seen from the promontories at Shaizar and Apamea. Wheat, barely, sugar-beet and thousands of fruit trees now cover more than 4,000 hectares.

So Jisr al Shughour now has a new role to play - that of transport center to get all this produce away to market. Roads are important but the terrain is difficult and road-transport is slow. A railway has therefore been built, at enormous effort and expense, across the coastal chain. The line is an amazing series of tunnels, viaducts and corniches. But since 1976 the harvests have been able to reach Lattakia without difficulty and the Ghab in return has enjoyed easy access to imported heavy goods.

Downstream from Jisr al Shughour the Orontes valley is less intensively cultivated than it is in the Ghab. Pastureland and orchards (cherries above all) become more common, contrasting with the arid hilltops all around. The road to Qnayyeh, on the frontier, and to Harim no longer runs along the river, which it crosses at Darkoush, but winds up among the hills.

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Addition Date:Added on Oct,02,01 :: Last modified Apr,21,04
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