The Syria of today offers tourists as much a cultural experience as a sightseeing one, where ancient history provides a fascinating backdrop to everyday life on the streets                          

 


The Ivory head - Ugarit

 

Syria is the cradle of the great civilization, and the accomplishments of her ancient peoples are renowned throughout the world. It was here that agriculture began ten thousand years ago, that settlement commenced and civilization emerged. Houses, not caves, became man's dwellings, and he embarked on a journey of self-discovery. He observed heaven and sang the earliest hymns. He tried his hand at drawing and sculpture. Evidence of these ancient arts is found all over Syria, at Mereibet, Jeyroud, Yabroud, and on the riverbanks. Syria also presented the world with another discovery. It was here that copper was made pliable and bronze was invented. The Bronze civilization came into at Tel Halaf. At Mari (Tel Hariri), by the Euphrates and elsewhere, there was an abundance of palaces, temples and murals reflecting cultural and commercial activity. The kingdom of Ugarit (Ras Shamra) offered mankind the first alphabet in history. At Ebla (Tel Mardikh), a royal palace was discovered containing one of the largest and most comprehensive documentary archives of the ancient world. These specialized in industrial, diplomatic, commercial and administrative maters, in addition to war and peace relations with other countries. The Amorites, the Kanaanites and Phoenicians inhabited the coastal regions, the Arameans were the highlander, and the Nabateans inhabited the south. Successive waves of migrations from the Arab Peninsula gave an Arab identity to Syria, and it managed to withstand the invasions by Hittites, Persians, Greeks and Romans. The Islamic conquest of 636 A. D. only confirmed this Arab identity and gave a sense of the land. The immense strategic importance of Syria is due to her unique position as a meeting of three continents (Asia, Africa, and Europe), and as a crossroad between the Caspian Sea, the Indian Ocean, the Black Sea, and the Nile River.

   

The people of Ugarit were the Canaanites, precursors to the Phoenicians. They were perhaps the first to recognize that human speech consists of only a finite number of atomic sounds and all that was really needed was a symbol for each. They devised 30 symbols from which the alphabets of all phonetic languages are derived (yes all: Hebrew, Latin, Sanskrit, Aramaic, Arabic, Greek, etc.). As a result, writing opened up and scribal power reduced; any child (or foreigner) could now easily learn to read and write. This may sound simple but it took nearly two millennia to arrive at it ... the Greeks got their alphabet from the Phoenicians. The names of most letters in the Greek/Phoenician alphabets are clearly related - alpha/aleph (ox), beta/bet (house), gamma/gimel (camel), delta/dalet (door), etc. Notably, the Ugaritic alphabet only had consonants - the pre-Homeric Greeks added the vowels.

      

Ugarit was an independent kingdom from the 18th century BCE. Its military and economic history has been revealed by the tablets found in the palace ar chives. The Canaanites had a golden age from about 1450 to 1200 BCE; it produced great royal palaces, temples and shrines, a high priests' library and other libraries on the acropolis. With their strong ships built of the cedars on the mountains of Lebanon, they became the greatest naval power of the age and knew many key principles of navigation. They traded textiles, ivory,  weapons and silver with the cities of the Mediterranean, Mesopotamia, Aegean Sea, Egypt and Asia Minor. Around 1200 BCE, Ugarit likely fell prey to the invasion of Philistines, northern tribes sometimes called the Sea Peoples. But other possibilities like a big earthquake, a famine or a massive fire have not been ruled out. Its population then was likely under 10,000

 


Through Syria lay

the silk route which led from China to Doura Europos (Salhiyeh), from Palmyra and Homs to the Syrian ports on Mediterranean, where for thousands of years Syrian seafarers had ridden the wave in their enormous fleets with gleaming white sails This geographical position lent distinction to the country, not only as a trade and caravan route, but also a melting pot of diverse ideas, beliefs, talents, and cultures.


A journey through Syria is a journey through time

When you enter the old souks you realize that history is some time alive and tangible, something you can see and touch. You down the 'Street called Straight' (Midhat Pasha) which stretches from Bab Kissan to Bab Al-Jabieh, and you feel that you are walking beside Saul of Tarsus when he saw the light of faith, the light on 'the Road to Damascus' The silk weavers whom you see in Damascus, Hama and Aleppo still work at their wooden handlooms just like their ancestors did in Ebla four thousand years ago. Glass blowers at their brick furnaces recall their predecessors who invented colored glass three thousand years ago. Folk artists still draw pictures of epic heroes almost identical to those engraved on stone by Doura Europos artists in the year 3000 B. C. Syria is often described as the largest small country in the world because of its wealth of ancient civilization. Modern man is indebted to this land for much of his thought and learning. Indeed it was aptly said that every intellectual has two homelands: his own, and Syria.

 
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