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||Middle East, bordering the Mediterranean Sea, between Lebanon and Turkey. 35 00 N, 38 00 E
||185,180 sq km
||Syrian Pound (SYP)
||GMT + 3 hrs
||Arabic (official); Kurdish, Armenian, Aramaic, Circassian widely understood; French, English somewhat understood
||Muslim, Christian and others
||Mostly desert; hot, dry, sunny summers (June to August) and mild, rainy winters (December to February) along coast; cold weather with snow or sleet periodically in Damascus.
Introduction to Syria
Syria is a Mediterranean country with a unique position at the cross of three continents: Europe, Asia and Africa.
Occupying almost 200 km of the Eastern coast of the Mediterranean, Syria shares borders with Turkey in the North, Lebanon in the West, Palestine and Jordan in the south, Iraq in the East and has an area of 180.000 square kilometres.
The coastal and Turkish borders are defined by distinct mountain ranges; the Taurus mountains in the North, the Ansaryeh and Eastern Lebanese mountains in the West.
The rest of Syria is mostly flat fertile plains and desert apart from two small chains of hills in the Centre and South.
The Biblical rivers, Euphrates and Orontes flow through the Syrian Plains irrigating vast areas, as do a number of smaller, less famous rivers such as the river Barada which flows through the Capital Damascus and the rivers Khabour and Balikh in the East.
The Cradle of Civilisation", Syria was a very prominent and powerful region in ancient times. The birthplace of the alphabet, it warred and traded with the Roman Empire and cradled Christianity.
Through its lands passed the pilgrim's road to Mecca, the crusades and the silk-road to China. On its land lived the Phoenicians, marine merchants, lands merchants, the Akkadians, Ammoreans, Assyrians, Arameans and other glorious civilisations.
The Roman Empire, at times, had Syrians as emperors; Elagabal (218-222 A.D.), Septimus Alexandrus (222-235 A.D.) and Philip the Arab (244-249 A.D.), to name a few. Julia Domna (158-217 A.D.) the second wife of the emperor Septimus Severus, was also Syrian.
The Syrian Dynasty (VIIth century A.D.) was among the most powerful in the Byzantine Empire History.
Similarly, the Roman Catholic Church took Syrians for her 11th, 82nd, 84th, 87th, 88th and 90th Pope. St. Anicet, John V, St. Sergius 1st, Sisinnius, Constantin and St. Gregoire III, respectively.
The Omayyad Dynasty (661-750 A.D. and till 1030 in Cordoba, Spain), which Capital was Damascus, dominated the largest empire ever known till then. It went from the Indus plain to Spain.
Syria's History is varied and wonderful and the many splendid ruins one finds attest to its former splendour and glory.
Damascus, Syria's capital, claims to be the oldest continuously inhabited capital in the world. Once the capital of the Umayyad Dynasty, it now houses the Syrian Government and with a population of 3.5 million, is the hub of Syrian economic affairs.
Geographically, Damascus is situated in the southwestern corner of Syria. It is built at the foot of a buttress of the Anti-Lebanon, Mount Kassioun, and at the border of a fertile plain, the Ghouta. It is situated just a two-hour drive away from the Lebanese capital Beirut and the Jordanian border, and about the same from the temporary Israeli border at the Golan Heights. The villages of Maaloula and Seidnaya are less than an hour away, and so is the Mosque of Al Sayidah Zeinab.
There is a direct route from Damascus to the ancient city of Palmyra, and a direct route running all the way to Aleppo, via Homs and Hama. There is also a direct route leading to the Jordanian border, and another through which you can visit Qanawat, Shahba, Bosra and other Southern sites.
Among the Northern plains you will find the city of Aleppo (Halab), situated in a bowl in the landscape. Gertrude Bell, an English woman, likened it to a saucer with an upturned cup, being the Citadel. This is where Abraham (P) milked his cow.
The city itself is a central 'old city', a long maze of narrow streets around the magnificent Aleppo Citadel. As you go further away from the Citadel, buildings and roads become more modern until you reach the boundaries of New Aleppo.
Aleppo, Syria's city of the North, is situated only 1 hour away from the Turkish border. The city of Antioch in the province of Iskanderoun used to be Aleppo's gateway to the Mediterranean.
From Aleppo there are direct routes to the East of Syria Al Raqqa, Deir Ezzor, Al Hassakeh and the Iraqi border at Bukamal. There are also direct routes to Turkey Latakia, Damascus and Palmyra (both via Homs).
Aleppo is now Syria's second biggest city. It has had a major role in the development of Syria's trade especially in the early nineties. It remains a popular city for tourists who like to visit the Citadel and the Middle East's longest covered souk. It is also famous for its architecture and intricate stonework.
A small coastal town, Latakia has developed considerably in the last few decades. To stop Syria's dependence on Iskanderoun and the Lebanese ports, Latakia was equipped with a modern harbor more than 20 years ago. It now has a University and is linked to Aleppo on the national railway lines. As Syria's primary port it has great economic significance for the rest of the country.
Latakia has the best beaches in Syria and to harness this, two or three luxury resorts are situated a few miles north of the city. Also built on the coast is the great sports complex built for the Mediterranean games that were held here in 1988.
Historically, Latakia does not offer much, it has a quite modern feel to it. However the ancient excavation site of Ugait and Saladin's castle are not far away, and Latakia is often used as a base for visiting these sites.
Latakia is situated 341 Km from Damascus and can be visited via Tartous or Homs, while it is only 183 Km from Aleppo and can be visited by train.
Tartous, this small harbor city with over 160 000 inhabitants, is now Syria's second port city. Formerly known as Antaradus and Constantia in Latin or Antartus and Tortosa by the Crusaders, it has developed rapidly over the recent years, and has nearly lost its charm as a small fishing town. However there are a few remains that the Crusaders left that remind us of the past.
Tartous is 220 Km northwest of Damascus and less than an hours drive south of Latakia. Quite a few sites nearby like, Amrit, Arwad, Krak Des Chevaliers and Al Marqab can be visited on short day excursions.
History of Tartous
Not much remains of the Phoenician Antaradus (Anti-Aradus - the town facing Arwad), the mainland settlement that was linked to the more important and larger settlement in Arwad.
This town was favored by Constantine for its devotion to the cult of the Virgin. The first chapel to be dedicated to the Virgin Mary is said to have been built here in the 3rd century. Two centuries later an earthquake hit the chapel and the altar was miraculously saved. This miracle was further enhanced by an icon of the Virgin believed to be painted by St. Luke resembling the one in Seidnaya. The church 'Our Lady of Tortosa' was built upon this miracle by the Crusaders in 1123. It now houses this altar and has received many pilgrims.