Damascus: President Pratibha Patil on Friday
visited the Ummayad Mosque, which is one of the holiest in the
world, as she arrived in this ancient city on the first-ever
visit by an Indian head of state to Syria to deepen bilateral
political and cultural ties.
Patil, who arrived here on a four-day visit to Syria
from Dubai, was warmly received by Senior Minister for
Presidential Affairs Mansoor Azam.
Ahead of her meeting with her Syrian counterpart
Bashar Al Assad to discuss regional and international issues,
she visited the Grand Mosque of Damascus, which is known for
its intricate architectural beauty.
Damascus is believed to be the oldest continuously
inhabited city in the world and the Umayyad Mosque stands on a
site that has been considered sacred ground for at least 3,000
The tomb of Saladin, the Kurdish Muslim who became the
first Ayyubid Sultan of Egypt and Syria, stands in a small
garden adjoining the north wall of the mosque.
In addition, the mosque holds a shrine which is said
to contain the head of John the Baptist.
Under the Umayyad caliph Al-Walid, the present mosque
was built between 706 and 715, according to the history of the
monument. The mosque has been rebuilt several times due to
fires in 1069, 1401 and 1893.
In 2001, Pope John Paul II visited the monument,
primarily to see the relics of John the Baptist. It was the
first time a pope paid a visit to a mosque.
Patil will receive a ceremonial reception tomorrow at
the Presidential palace after which there would be
delegation-level talks. A state banquet would also be held in
Patil would also hold talks with Syrian Prime Minister
tomorrow Mohammad Naji Otri, apart from Al-Assad. Some
agreements, including one on cultural exchanges, are expected
to be signed during the visit.
Patil would have discussions with the Syrian
leadership on bilateral issues -- political, economic and
cultural. Both sides would also explore investment
opportunities in each other`s country.
On the regional and international front, the Middle
East peace process and Syria`s relations with its neighbours
are expected to be important segments of the President`s
According to experts, the two sides will seek to boost
ties on issues ranging from collaboration on information
technology and investment to development of scientific
research, academic exchanges and cooperation on the Middle
East peace process.