Documentary photographer Andrea Bruce covered Syria before its civil war as well as the rebellions and revolutions of the Middle East of the past several years.
“I never saw Iraq before the U.S. invasion,” she says, “And, after being based there on and off for seven years, I yearned to know what it was like before this war.” In the case of Syria, a country whose beauty Bruce witnessed before the war, her desire is to make sure others get to see Damascus in case it suffers the complete devastation seen in other Syrian cities.
I had no idea what to expect when I first entered the regime side of Syria’s bloody civil war. Images from inside the city of Damascus have been scarce and journalists are rarely granted legal access.
The city appears strangely normal, at first. Children go to school. Men wear suits to work. Women dance at wedding parties. But what you also see are neighborhoods crowded with people displaced from areas outside the city who, for safety’s sake, are overstaying their welcome with relatives and friends.
In parts of Damascus families of 15 squeeze into tiny hotel rooms. Homeless children create playgrounds amidst ancient ruins. Now it is the constant shelling that is haunting in its normalcy. The throngs of tourists have disappeared from the old city. They have been replaced by the almost endless funeral processions.
A city I’ve always loved has become a tense bubble surrounded by encroaching chaos and violence. Followed by government-approved escorts, I was only allowed to leave my hotel at specific times; searching for the real Damascus under their wary and watchful eyes. Nevertheless, what I eventually found were people, living in the shadows of an over-crowded city, who largely didn’t take sides and whose loyalty was largely undefined. As in most of the world, people simply want to live their lives.
Andrea Bruce’s images of Damascus appear in the March issue of National Geographic magazine. Follow Bruce on her website.