Vintage photos show what Syria's capital city looked like 50 years ago

Syria has been the site of one of the worst conflicts on earth for the past four and a half years. The most recognisable images of the country today depict bombed-out buildings, piles of rubble, and displaced citizens.

A collection of images taken fifty years earlier by Charles W. Cushman, an avid traveller and amateur photographer, are a stark contrast.

Though Syria saw a number of coups d’etat in the 1960s and in the decades before and after, Cushman’s photos of downtown Damascus in 1965 paint a more mundane picture, showing families gathering, men riding donkeys, and shoppers in bustling bazaars.

These photos are being shared with permission from the Indiana University Archives.

4 million Syrians have fled their country since 2011. These drone images of a flattened Damascus make it clear why so many people no longer feel safe there.


Entire neighbourhoods have been leveled in the fighting, and parts of the capital appear devoid of human life.


Syria was unstable 50 years ago, too. Shortly before Cushman visited Damascus in 1965, the country's government was overthrown in a coup d'etat.

The military then overthrew the ruling Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party in 1966, a year later.

But these photos show a more mundane side of the country, giving a rare glimpse into everyday life in Damascus 50 years ago.

Below, a group travels along a road that links Beirut and Damascus.

In the mid-60s, animals could be seen transporting goods through downtown Damascus. Cushman described this one as 'a full load.'

'Big rider - small donkey' reads the description on this photo.

The photos show bustling street scenes as well.

... and peddlers carried their wares on their backs.

Cushman wrote on this photo, 'Syrian high-rise?'

Here's the Barada river flowing through Damascus.

Farmland rolling outside Damascus. Today, the city and the surrounding area are heavily contested between the Assad regime and Syria's various rebel groups. But when this photo was taken, the country's devastating civil war was still decades in the future.

You've seen what Damascus looked like 50 years ago ...

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