Syria: What to know?

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Syria is a Middle Eastern country with a rich history dating back to 3000 BC. It has been ruled by various empires, including the Persians, Romans, and Ottomans. After World War I, it became independent from French control in 1946. The country has experienced political instability and coups, with the Ba’ath Party holding power since 1970. The country is currently tense with anti-American protests, but still considered relatively safe for travelers. Tourist attractions include the Basilica of San Simeon, Umayyad Mosque, Palmyra Desert Ruins, and Damascus. Flights, buses, and trains are available for travel to Syria.

Syria is a large country in the Middle East. It covers 71,500 square miles (183,900 square km), making it somewhat smaller than the state of South Dakota. It borders Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Türkiye.

Syria has been inhabited for millennia. Around 3000 BC one of the first civilizations on Earth formed around the city of Ebla in northern Syria, eventually building an empire that stretched from Turkey to the Red Sea. For the next millennia the country was mostly in the possession of other empires, from the Akkadian Empire in the 23rd century BC, to the Amorites in the 20th century BC, to the Hittites a few centuries later. The region would also have been ruled by the Phoenicians, Canaanites, Egyptians, Sumerians, Assyrians, Babylonians and Arameans.

The Persian Empire finally conquered Syria in the 6th century BC, holding it until Alexander the Great conquered the region. It then came under the control of the Roman Empire. During this era Christianity was introduced to the region, with the first Christian church being organized by Paul in Antioch. After the decline of the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire took control of the area.

During the 7th century and the Arab conquest, the country became part of the Caliphate. For the next few centuries it flourished as they converted to Islam. In the 13th century the Mongols arrived, decimating the country for hundreds of years, and weakening it as a regional power. In the 16th century the Ottomans descended on the country, taking power and maintaining it for the following centuries.

When World War I ended and the Ottoman Empire was dissolved, the region was divided between the Western powers of Great Britain and France. The section that Britain received would eventually become Palestine and Jordan. The section that the French received would eventually become modern day Syria, as well as Lebanon.

The French controlled Syria until 1936, when a treaty was negotiated and the country became independent. The nation was formed as a republic and a president was soon elected. The French refused to ratify the treaty, however, in the face of growing fears of Nazi Germany and the renunciation of Middle Eastern territories. In 1944 Syria declared its independence again and was formally recognized in 1946.

A series of coups followed, with the government changing hands steadily for the next few decades. In 1958 Syria merged with Egypt to form the United Arab Republic. It seceded from the United Arab Republic in 1961, following another military coup. The Ba’ath Party eventually seized power and held it through a series of successive coups. In 1970, power stabilized following a bloodless coup and the inauguration of Ba’ath President Hafez al-Assad. He held power for the next three decades, until his son succeeded him in 2000 after his death.
The situation in the country is now tense and there is a fair amount of anti-American protests. The country is still considered relatively safe for travellers, but be careful to avoid any protests and it is best to check in regularly with an embassy.

The Basilica of San Simeon, known locally as Qala’at Samaan, is a basilica dating from the early 5th century and is a marvel. Of historical interest are also the dead cities found in the surroundings of Aleppo. The Umayyad Mosque is a stunning example of Islamic architecture and is one of the most important places in Islam. The Palmyra Desert Ruins date back to the 2nd century and are some of the finest architectural ruins in the region. And, of course, Damascus itself is a glory to behold, with astonishing architecture and culture and museums chronicling the region’s long and illustrious history.

Flights arrive daily in Damascus from most major European hubs, as well as airports in the Middle East and Africa. Buses are available from Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, while trains are available from Jordan and Turkey.

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