The city of Hama is famous for it giant wooden water wheels, called norias. They are picturesque to be sure, but are not the predominant feature of the place. What strikes me most about Hama is the general sense of a theme park in disrepair. Or of a much loved and time-worn summer destination in the off-season.
The rivers are lined with empty, rusting playgrounds and outdoor cafe’s covered in leaves with locks around their warped metal gates. There’s a park with an aging gazebo and great view of a noria, littered and locked up tight. An empty basketball court? Go carts? The whole thing reminds me of a sad local amusement park that’s been abandoned after a Six Flags moved in next door.
There is a star attraction in the area, although I doubt it’s the cause of Hama’s wear. The Crac de Chevaliers is a Crusader’s Castle much celebrated for it’s lack of wear. This is thanks to the fact that the castle was never overtaken. The Hospitaliers just gave up, bargained safe passage and went home.
The castle has been called the epitome of a childhood fantasy castle (Paul Theroux). This is true if your dream castle is of the English variety. Unfortunately, Radek grew up with a 900 year old Teutonic castle in his hometown so he was not particularly impressed. To me, it looked just right. And the weather cooperated: it started to rain, thus completing the English picture.
Now if only some of this rain would fall on Hama and get those norias rolling.