A map of Syria Lying at the crossroads of Europe, Asia and Africa, Syria has been at the centre of great trading civilizations for thousands of years. Its rich history includes periods of rule by the Akkadian, Babylonian, Assyrian, Persian, Greek, Roman, Arab and Ottoman empires. Its ancient capital, Damascus, is situated in the mountainous west. To the east, a dry, grassland region merges into the rocky Syrian Desert. The fertile floodplains of the River Euphrates, which flows through northeastern Syria, have enabled settlements to flourish in the otherwise harsh conditions of the desert. On its coast, Syria has a Mediterranean climate similar to that of California. Further inland the climate is arid, with hot, dry summers and cold winters.
Most Syrians today are Muslim Arabs, descended from the many different peoples who passed through Syria throughout its history. Also living in Syria are Christian Assyrian people, including several thousand Iraqi refugees, and Kurds, an Indo-European people who live mainly in the northeast. Most people live along the River Euphrates or in western parts; here, water supplies the main towns and cities and the land is more suitable for farming. In the countryside, most people farm sheep or goats and grow fruit and vegetables. Many rural people live a lifestyle that has hardly changed in hundreds of years.
The Syrian capital, Damascus, is one of the world’s oldest continuously-inhabited cities. Records of settlements on the site date back to around 6300 BC.
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