Damascus, the capital of Syria, is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world. It has occupied a position of importance in the fields of science, culture, politics, art commerce, and industry from the earliest times. Early references to Damascus, such as those in the Ebla tablets, confirm that it was a city of immense economic influence during the 3rd millennium BC.
Ancient Pharaonic scripts refer to it as Dameska. It enjoyed great prominence during the 2nd millennium BC as the center of an Aramaic kingdom under the name of Dar-Misiq (the irrigated house). The Aramites were the original inhabitants of Damascus, and their language was Syriac. Many villages around Damascus are still known by their Aramaic names.
Nowadays, Damascus is a living museum spanning thousands of years, a city measuring time not by hours, days, months, and years, but by empires it has seen rise and crumble to ruin. The most important landmarks at Damascus are: Umayyad Mosque, Azem Palace, St. Ananias Church, Damascus Citadel, Old Souqs like Al-Hamidieyeh and Midhat Pasha, Bimarstan Al-Nory, Saladin’s Tomb, St. Paul Church, and Al-Takieh Al-Suleimaniyeh.
Aleppo was the meeting point of several important commercial roads in the north. This enabled it to be the link in trade between Mesopotamia, the Fertile Crescent, and Egypt. The Amorites made it their capital in the 18th century BC. This position also made it subject to invasions from various races, the Hittites, Egyptians, Assyrians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans.Aleppo was famous for its architecture, for its attractive churches, mosques, schools, tombs, and baths. As an important center of trade between the eastern Mediterranean kingdoms and the merchants of Venice, Aleppo became prosperous and famous in the centuries preceding the Ottoman era. Many of its khans (caravanserai) are still in use even today; one of them is called Banadiqa Khan –Banadiqa in Arabic being the term for inhabitants of Venice.
Crac des Chevaliers
Lattakia is Syria’s busiest and most modern seaport, located 186 km south west of Aleppo. Until the fall of Ugarit, the area was part of that kingdom. This was an important ancient Canaanite urban center, and its language has had a marked effect on our knowledge of early religion, literature, and Biblical studies.
After the division of Alexander’s Empire it fell under the influence of the Seleucids and became a major city and port. Seleucus Nicator renamed the city to Laodicea, in honor of his mother, and today’s name is a corruption of that Greek name.
Laodicea was an important early Christian community, a fact attested by being mentioned in Revelations and Paul’s letter to the Colossians. After the fall of Rome, possession of the city seesawed between the Byzantines, Arab, Seljuk, Crusaders, Mamluks, and finally the Ottomans.
Not many ancient remains have survived in Lattakia, but there are four columns and a Roman arch from the time of Septimus Severus (Circa – 200 AD), in addition to a beautiful Ottoman construction called Khan Al-Dukhan, which is now a museum.
Palmyra (Tadmor in Arabic) is in the heart of the Syrian Desert, and is often described as the bride of the desert. Its magnificent remains tell of a heroic history during the reign of Queen Zenobia.
The Oasis, as it is sometimes called, is located near a hot-water spring called Afqa, which make it an ideal halt for caravans moving between Iraq and Al-Sham (present day Syria, Lebanon, the Holy Land, and Jordan), trading in silk from China to the Mediterranean. This strategic location made Palmyra prosper as a well-established kingdom from the 2nd century BC.
After Romans conquered Syria, Palmyra flourished and became known as a city of palm trees. When Emperor Adrian visited Palmyra, he declared it a free city; in return, people of Palmyra gratefully called their city Adrianapalmyra. The Severus emperors, who were originally Syrian, then came to rule Palmyra. They treated its people extremely well. Emperor Caracalla declared it a Roman colony, which made it a luxurious one. New constructions, streets, arches, temples, and statues were built, making Palmyra one of the greatest cities of the Roman empire.
When conflict between Persia and Rome reached its crisis, Rome appealed to the ruler of Palmyra for help. This ruler, Auzaina, managed to withstand Persian armies, which led Romans to call him leader of the East. But he was soon assassinated in mysterious circumstances, and his second wife, Queen Zenobia, a woman renowned for her exceptionally strong character, took power.
Zenobia ruled Palmyra in a way that astonished both West and East. She was exceptionally intelligent and attractive. She was a gifted linguist, an eloquent speaker of Palmyrian, Greek, and Egyptian. Zenobia had a wide knowledge of politics, and in her court, she had many philosophers, scholars, and theologians.
“Every civilized man has to consider that he has two homes, his native home and Syria.”