The natural beauty of the
mountains and valleys lends a dreamlike aura that surrounds the
ancient cities and incredible ruins of Syria. The stunning
mosques, palaces, cathedrals, tombs, temples and souqs embody
pieces of time, as they rise up like mirages from the sparkling
desert sands. Located at the legendary crossroads of Europe,
Africa and Asia, this region is the cradle of our most
influential ancient civilizations. Here, you are surrounded by a
culture that has been molded by successive empires of Greeks,
Romans and Ottomans.
• Visit the Christian quarter to see the underground St.
Anannias Chapel and St. Paul’s Church, both situated behind
Bab Keissan, one of the gates in the old wall encircling
Crac des Chevaliers, the Castle of the Knights, a
stately 12th century Crusader castle, and one of the most famous
medieval citadels in the world
Palmyra, the “Queen of the Desert,” and oasis city
and link on the ancient Silk Road between the Mediterranean and
• Take an excursion to
Baalbek, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
The Syrian Arab Republic revels
in its antiquity, having been inhabited for tens of thousands of
years - and in the variation and cultural riches that such
antiquity has brought it. This is a country that preserves
scores of relics documenting the rise and fall of different
civilisations, and which continues to welcome such diversity.
Syria was once regarded as a frontier region, bordered to
the east by the Arabs and Persians. The Persian invasions were
repulsed but Syria eventually fell to the Muslims in the
mid-seventh century. From then on, Syria was to be firmly part
of the Muslim world, although retaining Christian and Jewish
populations. Muslim control of Syria was vital to the defeat of
the Christians and their expulsion from Jerusalem. Even when the
terrifying force of the 13th century Mongols was unleashed on
Syria, their massive Hulagu army was eventually defeated at the
Battle of Goliath’s Well – a victory that, in retrospect, must
be seen as one of the world’s most decisive military
engagements, preventing both the Muslim world – and the
Christian one – from certain doom.
Today, Syria's Islamic identity is as central to the country as
its Arab roots. Such doctrine over-spilled into Arab nationalism
in the 1950s - indeed, Nasser’s revolution in Egypt prompted
Syria to join Egypt in the United Arab Republic. However, the
alliance was short-lived, Syria seceding in 1961 to form the
Syrian Arab Republic. Since then, Syria has been ruled at the
head of a tightly controlled dictatorship. Even when General
Hafez al-Assad of the Ba’ath Party (or Arab Socialist
Renaissance) died in 2000, and his son Bashar assumed headship,
Western hopes that the country would pursue a more pro-Western
line proved misguided – in the vocabulary of the US Bush
administration, the Syrian Arab Republic is a ‘state of concern’
(one level below the ‘axis of evil’).
Although Syria pulled its forces out of Lebanon in 2005 after
being implicated by a UN report for the assassination of former
Lebanese premier, Rafik Hariri (Syrian troops have remained
there ever since the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, in a (successful)
attempt to prevent the expansion of Israel, and to
counterbalance Israeli military might in the region), relations
with numerous Western states remains fragile.
In short, the Syrian Arab Republic's long history is littered
with dramatic episodes, from being subsumed into past empires
(Babylonians, Canaanites, Assyrians, Phoenicians, and so on) to
more recent events, such as Napoleon’s campaign in 1799/1800,
the Egyptian invasion in the 1830s and the insurrection in
1860-61. However, such battles and scrambles over territory have
translated into a catalogue of staggering cities full of
stunning monuments, from the entire city of Damascus to the
country's many mosques. The events have also failed to impair
the character of the Syrian people who – surprisingly to some –
exude friendliness and warmth, and are justly proud of their
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