Modern Syria is situated in Asia along the eastern edge of the Mediterranean Sea. The Syrian political body is represented by the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. The president is the head of state and is directly elected every seven years. Syria gained full independence on April 17, 1946 ceding from French Colonialism Rule.
Damascus 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 the city, such as those in the Ebla tablets, confirm that ‘Dameski’ (i.e., Damascus) during the third millennium B.C. was a city of huge economic influence. Ancient Pharaonic scripts refer to it as ‘Dameska’. It benefited great prominence during the second millennium B.C. as the centre of an Aramic kingdom under the name of Dar-misiq (the irrigated house).
Damascus became the capital of the first Arab state at the time of the Umayyads in 661 A.D. This marked the start of its golden epoch, and for a whole century, it was the centre of the youthful Islamic Empire. The Empire reached its peak of expansion throughout this period and came to stretch from the shores of the Atlantic and the Pyrennese in the west, to the river Indus and China in the east.
Following the decline and fall of the Umayyads, Damascus went through a period of neglect and decline. However, when independence was achieved in 1946, the city began to regain its importance as a significant cultural and political centre of the Arab world.
Lattakia is Syria’s main sea-port on the Mediterranean (186 km southwest of Aleppo). It has kept its importance since ancient times. Lattakia was one of the five cities built by Saluqos Nikator in the 2nd century B.C. He named it after his mother, Laudetia.
Not a lot of ancient remains have survived in Lattakia, but there are four columns and a Roman arch from the time of Septimus Severus (circa 200 A.D.), in addition to a beautiful Ottoman construction called Khan Al-Dukhan, which is now a museum.
Lattakia is the sea-gate to Syria. It is well-provided with accommodation and is well-placed as a base, from which to explore the coastal regions of the country.
Bosra was the earliest city in the Syrian Arab Republic to become Muslim and has some of the oldest minarets in the history of Islam. As a stopover on the pilgrimage route to Makkah, Bosra was a prosperous city until the 17th century. By then, the region was becoming insecure and the pilgrims began to take a less dangerous route further west. The Mosque of Umar in the center of the town (called Jami-al Arouss, ‘the bridal mosque’, by the Bosriots) used to be a pagan temple and now stands as the only mosque surviving from the early-Islamic period that has preserved its original facades.
Syrian handicrafts symbolize a tradition of skilled workmanship and folk art that dates back many thousands of years. The most common Syrian craft items include hand-woven silk brocades, embroidered table cloth, rugs, carpets, mosaics, brass and copper, leather, gold and silver jewelry made by hand of local designs, inlaid furniture with mother of pearls, all these items can be found in our old souks and bazaars in Damascus, Palmyra, Aleppo and almost all over Syria.
Many traditional Syrian dishes are effortless preparations based on grains, vegetables and fruits. Often, the same ingredients are used over and over, in unusual ways, in each dish. Yogurt, cheese, cucumber, aubergines, chick peas, nuts, tomatoes, burghul and sesame (seeds, paste and oil) are harmoniously blended into numerous assorted medleys. Pita bread is served for dipping with all meals.
A typical Syrian meal starts with Mezze – this can be an elaborate spread of forty or fifty Hors D’oeuvres or just a salad and a bowl of nuts. But it is always a social occasion, when friends and family meet to enjoy appetizers and conversation before lunch and dinner.
After meals, there is usually a hot drink of Arabic coffee or Shai (tea) along with fruits, Booza (ice cream) and a dessert. Syrian pastries are delicious – usually they are honey soaked pastries with nuts, raisins or cheese.
Sports and Recreation
Mixing with people and eating are the main forms of relaxation, especially in rural areas. Syrians adore talking. Men like going out to coffeehouses to talk, drink tea or Turkish coffee and smoke a “hubble-bubble” or water pipe. On Thursday night, the beginning of the weekend in Syria, young men meet on the streets to talk or drive around in their cars.
Throughout the good weather, some Syrians drive to mountain resorts for the day. Others take pleasure in leisurely walks. Syrians usually go for walks in groups, wearing their finest clothes. On mild evenings, parks in the city are full.
Soccer is the main sport in Syria. The country has national soccer and basketball teams. Men attend the games, which are shown also on television for a few hours a week. Recently, women have been allowed to take part in some sports, and today more women are playing sports and taking part in competitions.
Once the center of the Islamic Empire, Syria covers an area that has seen invasions and occupations over the ages, from Romans and Mongols to Crusaders and Turks. 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. It is a home to diverse ethnic and religious groups, including Kurds, Armenians, Assyrians, Alawite Shias and Druze, as well as the Arab Sunnis, who make up a majority of the Muslim population.
(Contributed by Affaf Jamal)