can be divided geographically into four main areas, the fertile
plain in the northeast; the plateau, coastal and mountain areas in
the west; the central plains; and the desert and steppe region in
the central and southeastern areas. The Euphrates flows from Turkey
in the north, through Syria, down to Iraq in the southeast.
The capital of Syria is the world's oldest inhabited city. A central
feature of this cluttered and clamorous city is the Ummayyad Mosque.
The 18th-century Al-Azem palace is now a national museum, featuring
beautifully illuminated copies of the Koran. Homs is a large city
known for its industry. Of historical interest is the mausoleum of
Khalid Ibn al-Walid. Located 65km (40 miles) outside Homs, Crac des
Chevaliers is the most famous crusader castle in the world. Rising
from an altitude of 670m (2200ft), its watch-towers once afforded
protection. Latakia, Syria's principal Mediterranean coastal port is
a major holiday resort. National dishes include kubbeh (minced
semolina and meat formed in balls and stuffed with minced meat,
onion and nuts) and yabrak (vine leaves stuffed with rice and minced
to be the world's oldest inhabited city, Damascus today (pictured)
is a thriving modern capital. Three thousand years ago it was the
capital of the Aramean Kingdom and was later conquered by Alexander
the Great, when it became an important Greek city. It was also a
major city of the Roman Empire and fell to the Muslims in 635A.D.
The Mongols sacked the city in 1200A.D. and it was occupied during
the Middle Ages by the Ottomans and the Mamelukes.
is situated at the Ghouta Oasis, fed by the waters of the Baruda
River. It was this oasis which first made settlement possible, as
the surrounding area would otherwise be uninhabitable.
old city of Damascus is surrounded by what was once a Roman wall,
much rebuilt at various times during the past two millennia. The
section between the Gate of Safety (Bab as-Salama) and Thomas Gate (Bab
Touma) is the best preserved part of the wall. Other Roman remains
include the western gate of the Temple of Jupiter, all that remains
of this huge structure from the 3rd century B.C. The Temple gate is
situated at the far end of the Souk al-Hamadiyyah and consists of
two vast Corinthian columns supporting a decorated lintel.
visiting are the Science and Medical Museum just off the Souk al-Hamadiyyah,
which is housed in a 12th century hospital, and the Museum of the
Arts and Popular Traditions of Syria, housed in the eye-catching
black-and-white Azem Palace, built of black basalt and limestone.
National Museum is situated at the entrance to the Qasr al-Hayr al-Gharbi,
a military camp outside the city near Palmyra. It contains a
fascinating and varied collection of statuary, frescoes, glassware,
old surgical instruments, coins, jewellery and a collection of
Q'rans dating back to the 13th century. It is unfortunate that many
of these exhibits are unlabelled, or have labels in Arabic only.
most impressive mosque in Damascus is the Omayyad Mosque. This dates
back to 705A.D., although the site is much older, probably by
another 2,000 years. The grandeur and peace of the mosque is a
welcome relief from the heat and hurly-burly outside. Non-Muslims
are welcome to visit and to take photographs, but visitors must don
the black robes provided before entering the mosque.
Via Recta is to be found in Damascus. Mentioned in the Bible as the
"Street called Straight", it is the famous refuge of Saint
Paul, after his vision on the road to Damascus, and today marks the
boundary of the city's Christian quarter. St. Paul's Chapel is to be
found in Bab Kisan, on the spot where St. Paul was lowered from a
window in a basket to make his escape from the city.
Roman city with a well-preserved amphitheatre in which the musical
festival is held every two years.
town is set in a desert oasis. The city was ruled by the legendary
Queen Zenobia, who stood against the two great empires of the Romans
and the Persians. Zenobia was taken captive to Rome when the Emperor
Aurelian conquered and destroyed the city in 272. The ruins of the Valley
of Tombs, the Hypogeum of the Three Brothers, the Temple
of Baal and the Monumental Arch are some of the fine
remains found over a wide area of the city, prized as some of the
most famous monuments to the Classical period in the Middle East.
third-largest city in Syria, Homs is known for its industry, and is
the site of Syria’s first oil refinery. Of historical interest is
the mausoleum of Khalid Ibn al-Walid.
45km (28 miles) from Homs. Situated on the River Orontes,
Hama dates back to beyond 5000BC. The Norias,
gigantic wooden waterwheels, are a unique feature, still used to
provide water for the city and to irrigate the many
public gardens. The orchards, the Great Mosque and the Al
Azem Palace’s Museum are also of interest.
possibly even than Damascus, Aleppo’s massive Citadel
stands on the site of a Hittite acropolis. This is one of the most
magnificent examples of Islamic Arab military architecture in Syria.
There is an impressive number of mosques in the city. For the
tourist, the souk, made up of 16km (10 miles) of meandering
low corridors lined with shops and bustling with activity, is
probably the greatest attraction. The well preserved hammams,
or public baths, are of interest, as are the ancient khans (rest
houses). Some fine artefacts and historic reminders of Syria’s
rich cultural past are housed in the archaeological museum. Aleppo
is also the commercial and industrial centre of Syria.
principal port and the metropolitan city of the country. Set on the
Mediterranean coast, Lattakia is a major holiday resort. The city
stands at the foot of the forested chain of mountains overlooking
the coastal strip on one side and the edge of the Fertile Plains (the
‘Cradle of Civilisation’) on the other. There are a number of
antiquities, including the ruined Temple of Bacchus and a
and mountains, Lattakia mountain resorts of Kassab and
Slounfeh. 10km (6 miles) inland, near Tartus, are the Drekish
Mountains, famous for the purity of their water.