Entering Syria these days as a foreigner poses a serious risk and is hardly a recommended travel destination.
With over 300,000 estimated casualties since the Syrian Civil War began in 2011, along with millions of others displaced, fleeing the country or left without sufficient food and drinking water, the war is the first and only thing that comes to mind these days when one thinks about Syria.
Back in April 2007, however, things were quite different. Foreigners were welcome in the country and hot air balloon teams were invited from all over the world to decorate the Syrian skies as part of the mayor of Homs’ birthday celebrations.
German balloon operator and photographer Michael Spar shared with us the photos from his once-in-a-lifetime trip to Syria, when instead of fighter jets and aerial strikes there were hot air balloons and aerial photos.
Before it became an opposition stronghold, Homs was the third largest city in Syria and a key transportation and industrial center. As one might imagine, in such a major city in a non-democratic regime, grandeur is to be expected when a leader celebrates and the mayor’s birthday is no exception.
Hot air balloons were the main attraction of the celebrations with teams being brought in from all over the world. It was an all-expenses-paid trip for the teams, with the Syrians taking care of the flights, accommodation, transporting the balloons etc.
While some might not understand the hoo-ha about the balloons, Michael tells us it was the first time foreign aircrafts were issued a permit for recreational flights in Syrian air space.
The ten day adventure included flights over Palmyra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site known as the cradle of civilization, and the country’s capital city – Damascus.
During this time Michael captured some 5,000 photos, with the presidential palace, cityscapes, old military installations where tanks and other weaponry were still visible and underground bunkers and rocket silos being a few of the subjects.
Sadly many of the areas shown in Michael’s photos look nothing alike today after ISIS has intentionally destroyed historic sites around the country and other areas were ruined by all sides as part of the ongoing fighting.
All photos are copyright Liberty Movie Ballooning and may not be used without permission.