Until the recent civil war, Syria was a diverse destination that revelled in its antiquity. Inhabited for tens of thousands of years, the country accumulated all the cultural riches afforded by such a long history and was rightly considered one of the Middle East’s top destinations. Sadly, the war-ravaged nation is now struggling to preserve its ancient relics, which document the rise and fall of myriad civilisations.
Like its history, Syria’s landscapes are varied. Vast steppes cover much of the country, but mountains soar in the west, deserts stretch in the east and volcanic fields spread across the south. Meandering through this dusty land is the great Euphrates River, which also flows through neighbouring Iraq.
Syria was once regarded as a frontier region, bordered to the east by Persians and west by the Arabs. The country fell to the Persians in the sixth century and though it retained Christian and Jewish populations, Syria was from then on a Muslim nation.
The country’s story is littered with dramatic episodes. Syria was subsumed by empires from Babylon to Canaan, Assyria to Phoenicia; it was conquered by the Ottomans, endured a campaign by Napoleon and was invaded by the Egyptians. During the height of pan-Arabism in the 1950s, the country briefly joined with Egypt in the United Arab Republic, but seceded to form the Syrian Arab Republic in 1961.
The battles and territorial scrambles of the past have translated into a catalogue of staggering cities, such as Damascus and Aleppo, which are chock-full of stunning monuments and ancient mosques.
The uprising against the ruling Baath Party in 2011 gave way to a civil war, which continues to rage and is further complicated by the formidable presence of the jihadist militant group Islamic State. Travel to Syria is ill-advised (it is probably the most dangerous country on the planet right now) and the future remains uncertain.