The old city of Damascus

   The city of Damascus is in Syria, one of the countries that, with Egypt, make up the United Arab Republic. Da­mascus is a very old city, one of the oldest in the world. We know that it is at least 4,000 years old, and it may be much older.
   Damascus is in an oasis in the Syrian Desert. A river from mountains near by brings water to it. It has such beautiful gardens that it has been called the "Pearl of the Desert."
   Over the centuries Damascus has been a center of trade and travel. Today's cars and buses follow ancient caravan routes through it. Many of its streets are lined with bazaars. One of these streets is "The Street Called Straight." For a mile and a half it has a roof over it. Damascus has one of the world's most famous mosques.
   Fifteen hundred years ago Damascus was famous for its steel. The iron workers of Damascus may have been the first people to make true steel. A sword made of the best Damascus steel was strong enough to cut through a rod of iron and sharp enough to cut through a flimsy silk scarf floating in the air.
   Once during the Crusades, according to an old story, Richard the Lionhearted was boasting about his sword to Saladin, the ruler of the Muslims. To prove how strong it was, he cut an iron rod in two with it. Then Saladin handed Richard a soft silk pillow and asked him to try his sword on it. Richard could not cut it. Saladin with his sword of Damascus steel then cut it in two with one stroke.