Places in Syria

Top events in Syrian Arab Republic

November
16

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

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.

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 October 2014

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.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all travel to Syria. British nationals in Syria should leave now by any practical means. The FCO is not able to provide consular services, and won’t be able to help your evacuation from the country.

In June 2013, the Syrian government issued a new law stating that individuals who enter Syrian territories illegally will be punished by a prison sentence of 5 to 10 years and/or a fine of 5 to 10 million Syrian pounds.

There is widespread fighting throughout Syria, including in Damascus and its suburbs. Full scale military operations involving the use of small arms, tanks, artillery and aircraft are ongoing. In Aleppo and elsewhere, the regime has been undertaking an indiscriminate campaign of aerial bombardment since mid-December 2013, using so called ‘barrel’ bombs – huge containers packed with explosives and shards of metal dropped by helicopter – against largely civilian targets. The situation remains extremely volatile.

On 21 August 2013, a conventional and chemical weapons attack took place in the suburbs of Damascus. There have been a number of recent media reports alleging further use of chemical weapons in Syria.

Fighting has caused the temporary suspension of commercial flights, closed roads, impeded access to land border crossing points and led to the closure of some border crossings.

There is a high threat from terrorism. There are continued attacks across Syria including in major cities, leaving large numbers of people dead or injured.

There is a very high threat of kidnapping throughout Syria. There have been a number of kidnappings, including of British nationals and other Westerners. There has been an increase in the number of reported kidnaps of both NGO workers and journalists in the last few months.

According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, there has been a significant increase in the mass execution and unlawful killing of civilians and detainees in northern Syria in recent weeks.

If you choose to travel to Syria against FCO advice, you should make sure you and your family have valid exit stamps on your travel documents if you need one and take out comprehensive travel and medical insurance.

As a result of the ongoing political and security instability and the implementation of sanctions against some Syrian institutions, financial transactions have become significantly more difficult.

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