Departing from Menin we came to Damascus, a city so beautiful as surpasses all belief, situated in a soil of wonderful fertility. I was so much delighted by the marvellous beauty of this city that I sojourned there a considerable time, that by learning the language I might inquire into the manners of the people. The inhabitants are Mahometans and Mamelukes, with a great number of Christians who follow the Greek ritual. It may be proper in this place to give some account of the Hexarchatus or commander of Damascus, who is subject to the lieutenant of Syria, which some call sorya. There is a very strong castle or fortress, which was built by a certain Etruscan or native of Florence in Tuscany, while he was exarch or governor of Damascus, as appears by a flower of the lily graven on marble, being the arms of Florence. This castle is encompassed by a deep ditch and high walls with four goodly high towers, and is entered by means of a drawbridge which can be let down or taken up at pleasure. Within, this castle is provided with all kinds of great artillery and warlike ammunition, and has a constant guard of fifty Mamelukes, who wait upon the captain of the castle and are paid by the viceroy of Syria. The following story respecting the Florentine exarch or governor of Damascus was related to me by the inhabitants. One of the Soldans of Syria happened to have poison administered to him, and when in search of a remedy he was cured by that Florentine who belonged to the company of Mamelukes. Owing to this great service he grew into high favour with the Soldan, who in reward made him exarch or governor of Damascus in which he built the before mentioned citadel. For saving the life of their Soldan this man is still reputed among them as a saint, and after his death the sovereignty of Damascus returned to the Syrians.
The Soldan is said to be much beloved by his princes and lords, to whom he is ever ready to grant principalities and governments, reserving always to himself the yearly payment of many thousands of those pieces of gold called saraphos or serafines, and any one who neglects payment of the stipulated tribute is liable to be immediately put to death. Ten or twelve of the chief noblemen or governors always reside with the Soldan to assist him with their councils and to carry his orders into execution. The Mameluke government is exceedingly oppressive to the merchants and even to the other Mahometan inhabitants of Damascus. When the Soldan thinks fit to extort a sum of money from any of the nobles or merchants, he gives two letters to the governor of the castle, in one of which is contained a list of such as he thinks proper to be invited into the castle, and in the other is set down what sum the Soldan is pleased to demand from his subjects; and with these commands they immediately comply. Sometimes however the nobles are of such power that they refuse to attend at the castle when