Places in Syria

Top events in Syrian Arab Republic

April
01

Flower traders and enthusiasts gather every year for the capital's annual flower show.

July
08

Annual four-day Jazz festival featuring local and international talents.

November
16

Also called the festival of sacrifice, the festival follows the annual Islamic pilgrimage and commemorates the trials of the Prophet Abraham....

Overlooking the Roman City in Syria
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Overlooking the Roman City in Syria

© Creative Commons / Neil Carey

Syrian Arab Republic Travel Guide

Key Facts
Area

185,180 sq km (71,498 sq miles).

Population

22.5 million (2013).

Population density

121.2 per sq km.

Capital

Damascus.

Government

Republic. Gained independence in 1946.

Head of state

President Bashar al-Assad since 2000. Ahmad Saleh Touma is interim prime minister of Syrian National Coalition since 2013.

Head of government

Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi since 2012.

Electricity

220 volts AC, 50Hz. European-style two-pin plugs.

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 land.

Travel Advice

Last updated: 29 March 2015

The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. 'We' refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.


Civil Unrest/Political Tension

There is a reduced number commercial flights due to the implementation of sanctions, the security situation and the high level of violence. This severely limits options for air travel and seat availability. Fighting in the vicinity of airports has caused the temporary suspension of flights. Road networks have been blocked without warning. Several major highways including Tartous-Latakia, Tartous-Homs, Latakia-Aleppo, Homs-Hama, Homs-Damascus and Damascus-Jordan have been temporarily closed. There are security force checkpoints on major road routes.

Fighting and road closures have affected access to some land border crossing points. You should check the status of all routes before travelling. Some border crossings are in the hands of opposition groups, vulnerable to attack, and/or closed. The border crossing points between Syria and Jordan are subject to occasional closure. The border crossing points between Syria and Lebanon remain open, including the Masnaa crossing point on the Damascus-Beirut road. Don’t attempt to enter Iraq via the Syrian border, which is subject to restrictions on both sides.

Be particularly vigilant in public places and keep a low profile. Don’t film or take photographs of public gatherings, military activity or any other sensitive matter.

All foreign journalists entering Syria need special permission from the Syrian authorities. Those journalists and other foreigners in opposition-held areas are vulnerable to mistreatment by the armed groups there. A number of foreign journalists have been killed. Others have been detained by the Syrian security forces or other armed groups during the crisis. The security forces have confiscated phones, cameras and video cameras.

There are restrictions on unlicensed political and religious activity in Syria. The Syrian authorities have detained and deported several British nationals for unauthorised activity. Activity in opposition-held areas will also attract attention. If you are deported by the local authorities, you will not be able to return to Syria.

Crime

The escalating conflict has led to a rise in crime in some areas, including violent robbery, carjacking and kidnapping.

Road travel

Driving standards and traffic systems are poor, and the accident rate is high. When there is a car accident with a pedestrian, the car driver is always legally responsible. You should avoid driving at night.

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