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London-based James Bingham, 44, spent a week in Syria this spring. The traveler used the services of a local travel agency called Golden Target Syria to ensure that he was safe. Above a photo made by Bingham in the ancient city of Palmyra, which was destroyed by Isis
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Few think Syria is a & # 39; rewarding & # 39; could be a tourist destination in 2019.

But that is how the intrepid traveler James Bingham described his journey to the war-torn country, which he visited a few weeks ago and took in the cities of Damascus, Homs, Aleppo and UNESCO World Heritage Palmyra.

Powerful photographs that he took there show widespread destruction – collapsed buildings, dirt-strewn roads and giant craters left behind by bombs. But also sparks of hope – a once ruined hotel that welcomes guests again, a damaged mosque that has been restored to its former glory and smiling children.

London-based James Bingham, 44, spent a week in Syria this spring. The traveler used the services of a local travel agency called Golden Target Syria to ensure that he was safe. Above a photo made by Bingham in the ancient city of Palmyra, which was destroyed by Isis

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London-based James Bingham, 44, spent a week in Syria this spring. The traveler used the services of a local travel agency called Golden Target Syria to ensure that he was safe. Above a photo made by Bingham in the ancient city of Palmyra, which was destroyed by Isis

Young children look for firewood in the destroyed streets of Aleppo. Bingham said that after talking to the youth, he discovered that it was bath time at home and that wood was needed to heat the water. The traveler said the young boy in the green & # 39; was so well presented that he almost did not look in place between the dust and the destroyed buildings & # 39;

Young children look for firewood in the destroyed streets of Aleppo. Bingham said that after talking to the youth, he discovered that it was bath time at home and that wood was needed to heat the water. The traveler said the young boy in the green & # 39; was so well presented that he almost did not look in place between the dust and the destroyed buildings & # 39;

Young children look for firewood in the destroyed streets of Aleppo. Bingham said that after talking to the youth, he discovered that it was bath time at home and that wood was needed to heat the water. The traveler said the young boy in the green & # 39; was so well presented that he almost did not look in place between the dust and the destroyed buildings & # 39;

Ancient writings can be seen on this pillar in Palmyra, which survived the vandalism of Isis

Ancient writings can be seen on this pillar in Palmyra, which survived the vandalism of Isis

The mutilated remains of an old truck clutter one of the streets in Homs

The mutilated remains of an old truck clutter one of the streets in Homs

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Ancient writings can be seen on this pillar in Palmyra, which survived the vandalism of Isis (left), while the mutilated remains of an old truck lie in one of the streets in Homs (right)

A man wanders along a dusty path full of debris in Aleppo

A man wanders along a dusty path full of debris in Aleppo

A man wanders along a dusty path full of debris in Aleppo

While Bingham's photos emphasize mass destruction, he says people are starting to rebuild where they can and progress is on the way. Above a photo taken in a badly damaged part of Aleppo

While Bingham's photos emphasize mass destruction, he says people are starting to rebuild where they can and progress is on the way. Above a photo taken in a badly damaged part of Aleppo

While Bingham's photos emphasize mass destruction, he says people are starting to rebuild where they can and progress is on the way. Above a photo taken in a badly damaged part of Aleppo

A photo of the reception of the Baron Hotel in Aleppo. It is the oldest hotel in Syria that is still in operation and has played dozens of famous guests over the years, including Agatha Christie, who wrote the first part of Murder about the Orient Express in room 203. It does not currently accept guests , but Bingham was able to drink a beer there
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A photo of the reception of the Baron Hotel in Aleppo. It is the oldest hotel in Syria that is still in operation and has played dozens of famous guests over the years, including Agatha Christie, who wrote the first part of Murder about the Orient Express in room 203. It does not currently accept guests , but Bingham was able to drink a beer there

A photo of the reception of the Baron Hotel in Aleppo. It is the oldest hotel in Syria that is still in operation and has played dozens of famous guests over the years, including Agatha Christie, who wrote the first part of Murder about the Orient Express in room 203. It does not currently accept guests , but Bingham was able to drink a beer there

Syria has been in violent turmoil since 2011 when national protests against President Bashar al-Assad turned into a complete civil war between government forces and rebel militias.

Terrorist groups, the most notorious being Isis, were created in the midst of chaos.

Funded by money from oil production, smuggling and kidnapping of ransom, it took control of huge parts of the territory in Syria and imposed a brutal regime on millions, with mass executions and crucifixions that cherished the characteristics of its reign of terror.

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Several cities fell under the group, including Raqqa and Palmyra, where it destroyed very valuable antiquities.

The last fighters in the group were finally driven out of the region this year by a US-supported alliance.

The demise of Isis gave Bingham the confidence to book a trip to Syria to explore the "people and cultural history" of the country.

Bingham said he had always been fascinated by Syria, which has endured a bloody civil war since 2011. Above a view of the amphitheater in Palmyra after being partially destroyed

Bingham said he had always been fascinated by Syria, which has endured a bloody civil war since 2011. Above a view of the amphitheater in Palmyra after being partially destroyed

Bingham said he had always been fascinated by Syria, which has endured a bloody civil war since 2011. Above a view of the amphitheater in Palmyra after being partially destroyed

US-backed troops announced this year that they had taken control of the last zone of the Isis territory. Above the theater in Palmyra after it has been profaned by Isis
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US-backed troops announced this year that they had taken control of the last zone of the Isis territory. Above the theater in Palmyra after it has been profaned by Isis

US-backed troops announced this year that they had taken control of the last zone of the Isis territory. Above the theater in Palmyra after it has been profaned by Isis

Isis occupies the old site in 2015, but it was recaptured by government forces the following year

Isis occupies the old site in 2015, but it was recaptured by government forces the following year

Isis occupies the old site in 2015, but it was recaptured by government forces the following year

Bingham said about Syria: & # 39; I have learned that it is one of the most beautiful and incredible countries in the world. Despite the war there is so much to see and learn and it is a country with many contrasts & # 39 ;. Above, Palmyra

Bingham said about Syria: & # 39; I have learned that it is one of the most beautiful and incredible countries in the world. Despite the war there is so much to see and learn and it is a country with many contrasts & # 39 ;. Above, Palmyra

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Bingham said about Syria: & # 39; I have learned that it is one of the most beautiful and incredible countries in the world. Despite the war there is so much to see and learn and it is a country with many contrasts & # 39 ;. Above, Palmyra

A representation of what the Roman theater in Palmyra looked like in 2005, with the pillars, the stage and the seating area still intact

A representation of what the Roman theater in Palmyra looked like in 2005, with the pillars, the stage and the seating area still intact

A representation of what the Roman theater in Palmyra looked like in 2005, with the pillars, the stage and the seating area still intact

In 2015, Isis released a horrific video of more than 25 regime soldiers who were executed in the Roman theater

In 2015, Isis released a horrific video of more than 25 regime soldiers who were executed in the Roman theater

In 2015, Isis released a horrific video of more than 25 regime soldiers who were executed in the Roman theater

The whole of Palmyra, including the four cemeteries outside the walls of the old city, has been on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1980. Upstairs, debris around what the Temple of Bel was
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The whole of Palmyra, including the four cemeteries outside the walls of the old city, has been on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1980. Upstairs, debris around what the Temple of Bel was

The whole of Palmyra, including the four cemeteries outside the walls of the old city, has been on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1980. Upstairs, debris around what the Temple of Bel was

Palmyra received more than 150,000 tourists a year before the Syrian conflict

Palmyra received more than 150,000 tourists a year before the Syrian conflict

Palmyra received more than 150,000 tourists a year before the Syrian conflict

Bingham says the ongoing conflict has kept most people from visiting Syria so far. He adds: & # 39; Although it is still an active conflict zone, many areas are now under government control and relatively safe & # 39 ;. Above, Palmyra

Bingham says the ongoing conflict has kept most people from visiting Syria so far. He adds: & # 39; Although it is still an active conflict zone, many areas are now under government control and relatively safe & # 39 ;. Above, Palmyra

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Bingham says the ongoing conflict has kept most people from visiting Syria so far. He adds: & # 39; Although it is still an active conflict zone, many areas are now under government control and relatively safe & # 39 ;. Above, Palmyra

A recording of the Temple of Bel in Palmyra in 2005, before it was destroyed in 2015

A recording of the Temple of Bel in Palmyra in 2005, before it was destroyed in 2015

A recording of the Temple of Bel in Palmyra in 2005, before it was destroyed in 2015

PALMYRA: SYRIA & # 39; S & # 39; BRIDE OF THE DESERT & # 39;

Palmyra, located about 130 miles northeast of Damascus, is known to Syrians as the & # 39; Bride of the Desert & # 39 ;.

It was an important caravan city of the Roman Empire, connecting it with India, China and Persia.

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Before the outbreak of the conflict in Syria in March 2011, the UNESCO site was one of the most popular tourist attractions in the Middle East, with 105,000 visitors a year. The whole of Palmyra, including the four cemeteries outside the walls of the old city, has been on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1980.

Global care for the beautiful ancient ruins of Palmyra in September 2015, when satellite images confirmed that Isis had demolished the famous Temple of Bel as part of his campaign to destroy pre-Islamic monuments that it regards as idolatrous. Unesco described the temple as one of the best preserved and most important religious buildings of the first century in the Middle East.

The Syrian government subsequently regained control of the site, but it again fell to Isis in December 2016. The members then caused even more destruction. In March 2017, Palmyra was recaptured by Syrian government forces and Russian scientists from the Pushkin Museum in Moscow began to reconstruct some of the old structures. Last year it was announced that there were plans to reopen the site for tourists and restoration work was in progress.

In fact, he said: & although it is still an active conflict zone, many areas are now under government control and relatively safe & # 39 ;.

Before the trip, he decided to travel alone and made use of the services of a local guide called Golden Target Syria to make sure he was safe.

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He said the company & # 39; very reliable and reliable & # 39; had sorted all his permits and a visa in advance.

He traveled with Middle East Airlines from London to Beirut in Lebanon and from there the agency arranged for him to meet a private driver and guide to cross the border to Damascus in Syria. He said he had collected his visa for Syria when he entered the country.

Special permits are required for Palmyra – Bingham's access to the archaeological site was only approved two days before it was visited.

And Idlib in the northwest remained forbidden territory because of ongoing fighting there.

For those hoping to follow his steps back, Bingham notes that you cannot enter Syria with an Israeli stamp in your passport.

The adventurer added: & # 39; Once in Syria, there are dozens of military checkpoints, and having a local fixer to negotiate your way through it makes sense. & # 39;

When it came to packing, Bingham said he packed his normal travel gear, because you can & # 39; dress as you want & # 39; in Syria.

He added: & # 39; The country is relatively liberal with Muslims and Christians living side by side. You can wear your normal clothes and blend in without worry. & # 39;

As he toured the country with his local guide and private driver, Bingham made some truly frightening images, with residents trying to continue life as well as possible.

One of Bingham's photos, taken in Aleppo, shows a group of young children smiling for the camera despite their gloomy surroundings.

Palmyra was twice occupied by militants between 2015 and 2017. The area is now being restored

Palmyra was twice occupied by militants between 2015 and 2017. The area is now being restored

Palmyra was twice occupied by militants between 2015 and 2017. The area is now being restored

Last year it was announced that there are plans to reopen Palmyra for tourists. Above what the area currently looks like

Last year it was announced that there are plans to reopen Palmyra for tourists. Above what the area currently looks like

Last year it was announced that there are plans to reopen Palmyra for tourists. Above what the area currently looks like

The driver and guide from Bingham drink tea with a museum official in Palmyra in a room with a bombarded ceiling. Bingham added: & # 39; The museum is badly damaged and no longer receives visitors. The display cases have been smashed, walls covered with bullet holes, most of the artifacts have disappeared and some layers have been knocked onto the floor & # 39;

The driver and guide from Bingham drink tea with a museum official in Palmyra in a room with a bombarded ceiling. Bingham added: & # 39; The museum is badly damaged and no longer receives visitors. The display cases have been smashed, walls covered with bullet holes, most of the artifacts have disappeared and some layers have been knocked onto the floor & # 39;

The driver and guide from Bingham drink tea with a museum official in Palmyra in a room with a bombarded ceiling. Bingham added: & # 39; The museum is badly damaged and no longer receives visitors. The display cases have been smashed, walls covered with bullet holes, most of the artifacts have disappeared and some layers have been knocked onto the floor & # 39;

In the destroyed city of Homs, he said he visited the Khalid ibn al-Walid mosque, which was recently renovated after a restoration of several million dollars.

And in the capital Damascus, the Bingham guide insisted that he visit the Damascus flower show, which had just been reopened after a longer nine-year break due to the conflict.

Bingham said it turned out to be one of the highlights and he was treated to free admission and later introduced to the Deputy Minister of Tourism in Syria.

After obtaining his last-minute permit to visit the ancient Roman city of Palmyra, he then photographed precious objects from thousands of years that are now in pieces after being blown up by Isis.

Global concern about the beautiful ancient ruins of Palmyra in September 2015, when satellite images confirmed that Isis had demolished the famous Temple of Bel as part of its campaign to destroy pre-Islamic monuments that it regards as idolatrous

Global concern about the beautiful ancient ruins of Palmyra in September 2015, when satellite images confirmed that Isis had demolished the famous Temple of Bel as part of its campaign to destroy pre-Islamic monuments that it regards as idolatrous

Global concern about the beautiful ancient ruins of Palmyra in September 2015, when satellite images confirmed that Isis had demolished the famous Temple of Bel as part of its campaign to destroy pre-Islamic monuments that it regards as idolatrous

Palmyra, located about 130 miles northeast of Damascus, is known to Syrians as the & # 39; Bride of the Desert & # 39 ;. It was an important caravan city of the Roman Empire, connecting it with India, China and Persia

Palmyra, located about 130 miles northeast of Damascus, is known to Syrians as the & # 39; Bride of the Desert & # 39 ;. It was an important caravan city of the Roman Empire, connecting it with India, China and Persia

Palmyra, located about 130 miles northeast of Damascus, is known to Syrians as the & # 39; Bride of the Desert & # 39 ;. It was an important caravan city of the Roman Empire, connecting it with India, China and Persia

Before they were erased, Palmyra boasted more than 1,000 columns, a Roman aqueduct and a cemetery with more than 500 graves

Before they were erased, Palmyra boasted more than 1,000 columns, a Roman aqueduct and a cemetery with more than 500 graves

Before they were erased, Palmyra boasted more than 1,000 columns, a Roman aqueduct and a cemetery with more than 500 graves

Huge boulders and pieces of brickwork were toppled around the ancient city of Palmyra

Huge boulders and pieces of brickwork were toppled around the ancient city of Palmyra

Huge boulders and pieces of brickwork were toppled around the ancient city of Palmyra

An image of what remains in Palmyra after it has been seized twice by Isis militants

An image of what remains in Palmyra after it has been seized twice by Isis militants

An image of what remains in Palmyra after it has been seized twice by Isis militants

Palmyra is not easy to visit. Bingham needed a special visit to access the site, which was issued just two days before he went there

Palmyra is not easy to visit. Bingham needed a special visit to access the site, which was issued just two days before he went there

Palmyra is not easy to visit. Bingham needed a special visit to access the site, which was issued just two days before he went there

When Isis took Palmyra again in December 2016, his members caused even more destruction

When Isis took Palmyra again in December 2016, his members caused even more destruction

When Isis took Palmyra again in December 2016, his members caused even more destruction

Bingham saw an old statue in Palmyra lying on the floor in pieces

Bingham saw an old statue in Palmyra lying on the floor in pieces

Bingham saw an old statue in Palmyra lying on the floor in pieces

The bustling scene in the Al-Hamidiyah Souq, located in the old walled city of Damascus next to the Citadel, with shops selling everything from leather belts to fresh fruit

The bustling scene in the Al-Hamidiyah Souq, located in the old walled city of Damascus next to the Citadel, with shops selling everything from leather belts to fresh fruit

The bustling scene in the Al-Hamidiyah Souq, located in the old walled city of Damascus next to the Citadel, with shops selling everything from leather belts to fresh fruit

Bombed residential complexes are located along the road in Homs

Bombed residential complexes are located along the road in Homs

Bombed residential complexes are located along the road in Homs

A photo of women and children being picked up by the local minibus in the city of Homs

A photo of women and children being picked up by the local minibus in the city of Homs

A photo of women and children being picked up by the local minibus in the city of Homs

London-based Bingham, 44, told MailOnline Travel that the city had a population of more than 50,000 before the terror of Isis, but now & # 39; virtually empty and very badly damaged & # 39; is.

He added: & # 39; A few people seem to have returned. A boy asked for water and I spoke with another family who had food supplies from the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees).

& # 39; But it really is yet another ghost town, with houses, shops and restaurants that are all empty, searched or in ruins.

& # 39; The museum in Palmyra is badly damaged and no longer receives visitors. The display cases have been smashed, walls covered with bullet holes, most of the artifacts have disappeared and some have been laid on the floor. & # 39;

About this image, Bingham said: “Nothing prepared me for the destruction in Homs. Entire residential areas were completely destroyed & # 39;

About this image, Bingham said: “Nothing prepared me for the destruction in Homs. Entire residential areas were completely destroyed & # 39;

About this image, Bingham said: “Nothing prepared me for the destruction in Homs. Entire residential areas were completely destroyed & # 39;

In Homs, Bingham visited the Khalid ibn al-Walid mosque, pictured, which was recently renovated after a multi-million dollar restoration

In Homs, Bingham visited the Khalid ibn al-Walid mosque, pictured, which was recently renovated after a multi-million dollar restoration

In Homs, Bingham visited the Khalid ibn al-Walid mosque, pictured, which was recently renovated after a multi-million dollar restoration

Meanwhile, the accommodation in Bingham in Syria came as a pleasant surprise.

In Damascus, he discovered a & # 39; beautiful historic riad & # 39; – the Beit al-Mamlouka Hotel – in the old town with & # 39; fantastic staff & # 39 ;, while checking in to an old hotel in Aleppo – the Dar Halabia Hotel – that was directed by Isis in the war.

Bingham said: & # 39; The place had just been reopened after being returned to the rightful owners, who had done extensive repairs.

& # 39; Unfortunately, much of the hotel environment is badly damaged.

& # 39; There was still no electricity, internet or hot water, but it was good to be one of the first guests at the hotel and to support the owners a little in rebuilding their business. & # 39;

Young people stop to have their photo taken in Aleppo. Bingham said: & # 39; Young children often did not ask for their photos to be taken. I could never imagine how difficult their lives must have been, but they always had time to share a story and smile for the camera & # 39;

Young people stop to have their photo taken in Aleppo. Bingham said: & # 39; Young children often did not ask for their photos to be taken. I could never imagine how difficult their lives must have been, but they always had time to share a story and smile for the camera & # 39;

Young people stop to have their photo taken in Aleppo. Bingham said: & # 39; Young children often did not ask for their photos to be taken. I could never imagine how difficult their lives must have been, but they always had time to share a story and smile for the camera & # 39;

A shot with a giant bomb crater in Aleppo, with buildings staggering around it

A shot with a giant bomb crater in Aleppo, with buildings staggering around it

A shot with a giant bomb crater in Aleppo, with buildings staggering around it

THE FUTURE AND FALL IN ISIS IN SYRIA

Syria has been in violent turmoil since 2011 when national protests against President Bashar al-Assad turned into a complete civil war between government forces and rebel militias.

Terrorist groups, the most notorious being Isis, were created in the midst of chaos.

Funded by money from oil production, smuggling and kidnapping of ransom, it took control of huge parts of the territory in Syria and imposed a brutal regime on millions, with mass executions and crucifixions that cherished the characteristics of its reign of terror.

Several cities fell under the group, including Raqqa and Palmyra, where it destroyed very valuable antiquities.

The rise of Isis led to direct intervention by the US army and Russia.

The campaign to defeat Isis took effect and the US-backed Syrian forces announced this year that the militants had been driven from their last stronghold of Baghuz.

So how would he summarize everything?

The traveler said that the warm welcome he received from Syrians was the thing that will stay with him.

He said: & # 39; My visit to Syria was one of the most humble yet rewarding experiences in my life.

& # 39; I have learned that it is one of the most beautiful and incredible countries in the world. Despite the war there is so much to see and learn and it is a country with many contrasts.

& # 39; There are still many challenges and the conflict is not over yet. But it feels like things are improving and I felt welcome everywhere.

& # 39; There is incredible destruction, but under the bombed ruins people are starting to rebuild where they can.

& # 39; Young children often stopped me from having their photos taken. I could never imagine how difficult their lives must have been, but they always had time to share a story and smile for the camera.

& # 39; I played table football with some of them in Aleppo and drank tea with the locals, who always liked to share the little they had with me.

& # 39; Even the soldiers I met were hospitable.

& # 39; I really hope to visit again and see some of my new Syrian friends in the not too distant future. Specialized travel agency Untamed Borders has now added Syria to its itinerary, which gives me hope that things will be better. & # 39;

It is not the first time that Bingham has set foot in a war-torn country, and he is used to taking precautions to make his journeys as safe as possible.

In 2015, he helped set up the Afghanistan Marathon and, closer to home, set up a 135-mile ultra-marathon called the Ring O & Fire, which will take place at the end of August in Angelsey, North Wales.

He says that his next adventurous journey next winter will involve skiing through the wilderness of Iran.

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