Although some historians say Syria's capital is the oldest continually inhabited city in the world, the fragments of the city's walls still standing don't reflect this great antiquity. The most picturesque section of wall, a mile-long stretch of stone and clay fortification between two gates at the northeast corner of the old city, is of mixed and uncertain age. Bab Tuma (the Gate of St. Thomas) on the north, where the Barada River rushes along the wall toward the green Ghuta plain (Aramco World, July-August 1972), dates only from the 13th century, while Bab Sharki (East Gate), at die cad of the biblical Street Called Straight, not far from where St. Paul is said to have been lowered from the wall to safety in a basket, is a restored Roman gateway. Between these two entrances to the old city the wall is topped by scores of picturesque houses all askew which—though comfortable enough inside—rather look like what one visitor called "quaint improvisations, burrowed into, built on and glued on" the wall during past centuries.
Behind the wall today are the cool and narrow alleys of the Christian Quarter of the old city.; outside it is fronted now by a wide avenue with a narrow park and trees along its base.
Frank Beck, an Australian artist and illustrator who has lived and worked in several East-European and Middle Eastern countries, painted most of Damascus during a six-month visit last year and was commissioned by the Syrian Government to sketch the Damascus International Fair. But he became particularly fond of the historic northeast corner of the wall shown in his drawings on these pages, an area where, he says, the wall has "a kind of marriage with the river, in and out, rippling by, purring and purling through the bushes in the shadow of the precarious wooden balconies and the old houses."