Damascus, the capital of Syria, lies on the Barada River in the shadow of Mount Qassioun and the Anti-Lebanon Mountains. The original settlement was founded at al-Ghouta oasis, where gardens and orchards were irrigated with the Barada River's melted snow water. Archaeological finds have made it possible to date the oasis' first human settlement to around 4000BC, which means Damascus can claim to be one of the world's oldest continuously inhabited cities.
The city's dramatic sprawl of recent decades now incorporates the oasis. Because of the abundance of water, many travellers have described Damascus as an earthly paradise, particularly after the hardships of travelling through the desert. It is said that when Prophet Mohammed stood with his caravan on Mount Qassioun and looked at the city, he refused to enter because he believed that men can only enter paradise once: if he entered Damascus he would have to forsake the heavenly paradise.
Damascus has long been an important caravan stop and trading centre, once famous for dried fruit, wine, olive oil soap, wool, linens and silks. The patterned fabric, known as damask, was named for the silk fabrics woven in Damascus. The old city, classified in 1979 as a UNESCO World Heritage site, is vibrant with people, but the atmosphere is serene and laid back.