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Syria

Main attractions

Shmemis Castle, Syria
Shmemis Castle ruins on the top of extinct volcano / Bertramz, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0

The sands in Syria most likely hide many secrets which one day will tell how the civilization started on Earth. Throughout many millenia in this country appeared and disappeared many cities (it is well possible that the first cities appeared here), some persist up to this day, some are in ruins but many are covered with sand. Here are found some of the oldest fortifications, palaces, castles and some of the oldest Christian churches.

Natural landmarks

  • Cater Magara - Ar Raqqah. 7,300 m long cave which has formed in gypsum.

Man made landmarks

Rujm el Hiri, Syria
Rujm El Hiri / אסף.צ, Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-SA-3.0

Prehistoric monuments

  • Dederiyeh Cave - Aleppo. Large cave chamber, up to 50 m deep. Here has been found a burial of Neanderthal child - unique, almost full skeleton.
  • Rujm-el-Hiri - Quneitra. Enormous megalithic monument consisting of several concentric stone rings with more than 42 000 basalt rocks.

Prehistoric settlements

  • Ebla (Tell Mardikh) - Idlib. Ruins of ancient Bronze Age city, which started to develop in 3,500 BC and soon turned into city-state, trading empire. Here was found a rich library (Ebla tablets) with cuneiform writings, made in 2,350 BC. City was destroyed and then rebuilt again and finally ruined and abandoned in 1,600 BC.
  • Mari 5,000 years ago, Syria
    Mari 5,000 years ago / Balage Balogh / CC BY-SA 3.0
    Mari (Tell Hariri) - Deir ez-Zor. Under a hill are remnants of very old city. Mari was inhabited since the 5th millenium BC, flourished in 2900 -­1759 BC. The city had a strict circular form (diameter - 1.9 km) with fortification wall around it. The placement of palaces and shrines in the centre of the city testify that this city was strictly planned.
  • Tell Abu Hureyra - Ar Raqqah. Remnants of an ancient settlement (now flooded) which was inhabited in 13 - 9.5 millenia BC. It's inhabitants were the first farmers in the world, farming started sometimes around 11,050 BC.
  • Tell Brak - Al-Hasakah. A mound which covers the remnants of ancient city which flourished in the 6th - 2nd millenium BC. Mound is up to 40 m tall and its area is 130 ha.
  • Tell Qaramel - Aleppo. Remnants of very old settlement. Here were found remnants of five stone-built towers which were built in the time period from the 11th millenia to 9650 BC and are oldest known towers in the world.
  • Ugarit (Tell Shamra) - Latakia. Ruins of ancient port city which flourished in 1800 - 1200 BC. City was fortified with a wall already in 6000 BC, in Neolithic. Sometimes around 1190 BC it was abandoned. In the city was developed special system of writing sometimes around 1400 BC.

Phoenician settlements

  • Amrit - Tartus. Well preserved ruins of ancient Phoenician city. City was founded in the 3rd millenium BC and abandoned in 148 BC. It was an important and wealthy port town. Important building was Amrit Temple - Phoenician temple dedicated to Melqart and, probably, built in the 4th century BC. Other important structures are stadium and necropolis.
  • Arwad - Tartus. Small island, fully covered with the historical Arwad town. Contains the impressive Arwad castle.

Hellenistic and Roman settlements

  • Apamea - Hama. Ruins of former capital city of Apamente. City started as a fortress, which was built sometimes around 300 BC. City was very rich and at some moments here were living up to 1 million people. Abandoned in the 13th century. Contains ruins of enormous Roman theatre and the impressive Great Colonnade of Apamea.
  • Great Colonnade of Apamea, Syria
    Great Colonnade of Apamea / yeowatzup, / CC BY 2.0
    Bosra - Daraa. Ruins of an ancient metropolis, the oldest Nabatean city (the 2nd century BC). Later it became an important Roman (capital of Arabia province) and Byzantine city. Major buildings here are Roman theater, Al-Omari Mosque and many ancient shrines.
  • Dura-Europos - Deir ez-Zor. Well preserved ruins of an ancient bordertown. Town was founded by Seleucids (Hellenes) in 303 BC. Later it was Parthian and Roman town. City fell and was pillaged in 257 AD.
  • Palmyra - Homs. Important ancient city - caravan stop. Existing since at least the 2nd millenia BC, abandoned after the 16th century AD. Now impressive ruins remain - temple of Ba'al (the 1st - 2nd century AD), decumanus with arch, theater and others. City had its own alphabet.
  • Resafa (Sergiopolis) - Ar-Raqqah. Well preserved remnants of fortified Assyrian and Roman city, started to develop in the 9th century BC. In the 4th century AD it was important Christian pilgrimage site. City is surrounded by 1.8 km long walls. Inside are ruins of church and other buildings.
Serjilla, Syria
Ruins of Serjilla / Fulvio Spada, / CC BY-SA 2.0

Ancient Byzantine settlements

  • Barad - Aleppo. Abandoned Byzantine city with ruins of imposing buildings. Prominent building was Church of Julianos (388 - 402 AD) which was built on a hill.
  • Serjilla - Ildib. Abandoned town, which was founded in 473 AD by Christians and abandoned in the 7th century AD.

Medieval settlements

Citadel of Aleppo, Syria
Citadel of Aleppo / Luigi Guarino, / CC BY 2.0
  • Citadel of Aleppo and Old City - Aleppo. One of oldest continuously inhabited cities. Settlement existed here already in 6000 BC, development of city started around 2000 BC. Citadel of Aleppo rises 50 m above the city and contains ruins of magnificent Arab buildings and older structures, it is very large - 3.5 km². Old City has retained its Graeco-Roman planning and contains remnants of the 6th century Christian buildings and other old structures, also 5 km of city walls. Urban fabric of Aleppo has distinct historical districts.
  • Damascus - Damascus. Very old city, inhabited since 6300 BC, developed as a city in the 3rd millenium BC. Important centre of steel and lace production in medieval times. City has hundreds of beautiful and historically significant buildings, such as Umayyad Mosque - one of the most significant buildings in Near East. Old city is still surrounded by walls which have seven gates since the Roman times.
  • Qalaat al-Madiq - Hama. Enormous fortified village, which was built in the 12th century in the site of Apamea - ancient city.
Fire in Krak des Chevaliers, 2013, Syria
Fire in Krak des Chevaliers, 2013 / Syria963, / CC BY-SA 3.0

Fortifications

  • Aleppo Citadel - Aleppo. Enormous fortress, built on a hill which rises some 50 m above the ancient city. One of the largest castles in the world, development of it started in the 3rd millenium BC. Site contains numerous valuable buildings and artworks, there are also underground passages which penetrate up to 125 m deep.
  • Citadel of Saladin (Salah Ed-Din) - Latakia. Enormous fortress on the ancient route between Latakia and Antioch. Fortress was developed since the 10th century AD and it includes 28 m deep man made ditch, cut in live cliff. Fortress has been many times besieged and also captured by Byzantine forces, Crusaders, Mamluks.
  • Fakhr-al-Din al-Maani Castle - Homs. Enormous hilltop castle, built by Mamluks in the 13th century AD.
  • Krak des Chevaliers - Homs. One of the most prominent and impressive medieval castles in the world. Kurds developed a fortress since the 11th century here, byt Crusaders rebuilt it in the 1140s - 1170 and in the 13th century.
  • Margat - Tartus. Impressive fortress / castle, built by Muslims (1062) and later - Crusaders. Served as headquarters of Hospitallers and was rebuilt by them in the end of the 12th century AD.
  • Masyaf Castle - Hama. Impressive castle on a hilltop, former centre of Syrian Assassin sect in 1141 - end of the 13th century.
  • Qasr al-Hayr al-Sharqi - Homs. Castle, built in the times of Umayyad Caliphate, in 728 - 729 AD. The enormous building has seven floors and its design shows that this might have served not only as a military outposts but also as a hunting resort for caliph.
  • Shmemis (Chmemis) - Hama. Remnants of ancient castle which was built on the top of an ancient volcano. Originally it was built in the 1st century BC but later several times rebuilt. View on this castle is very impressive.
Ain Dara Temple, Syria
Ain Dara Temple / Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, / CC BY 2.0

Ancient temples

  • Ain Dara Temple - Aleppo. Remains of Iron Age temple, which was active in 1300 - 740 BC (Syto-Hittite culture). Temple is similar to the Solomon's Temple as described in Bible, but older. Artwork includes sculptures of lions, sphinxes, footprints.
  • Al-Dumayr - Rif Dimashq. Partly reconstructed Roman temple which was built in 245 AD and was dedicated to Zeus Hypsistos. Earlier here was standing Nabatean temple, mentioned in 94 AD.
  • Banias (Paneas) - Quneitra (site controlled by Israel). Once important shrine of Greek deity Pan, built in the 3rd century BC. Shrine was built at powerful spring which today is far less powerful.
  • Dura-Europos synagogue - Deir ez-Zor. Ruins of one of the oldest synagogues in the world, built in 244 AD. This building is adorned with wall paintings.
  • Temple of Ba'al in Palmyra (Temple of Bel) - Homs. Enormous temple to Ba'al - Levantine deity. Originally built as Hellenic temple, in 32 AD and later it was extended and was one of the most important religious sites in this region before the coming of Christianity. Destroyed by ISIS state in summer 2015.
Frescoes in Deir Mar Musa, Syria
Frescoes in Deir Mar Musa / Hovic - Churches Album, / CC BY 2.0

Christian monasteries

  • Deir Mar Musa (Monastery of Saint Moses the Abyssinian, Mar Mousa) - Rif Dimashq. Syriac Orthodox monastery from the middle of the 6th century, located in dramatic setting. Church contains very impressive artwork: frescoes from the 11th - 12th centuries.
  • Mar Sarkis Monastery - Rif Dimashq. One of the oldest Christian monasteries, built in the site of a pagan temple. Buildings contain elements from the Byzantine period, the 5th - 6th centuries AD. In the monastery are two very old icons, among the oldest in the world.

Christian churches

Church of Saint Simeon Stylites, Syria
Church of Saint Simeon Stylites / Johan Siegers, / CC BY 2.0
  • Cathedral of Our Lady of Tortosa - Tartus. Possibly the best preserved church of Crusaders in Levant. This cathedral was built in the middle of the 13th century by Templars.
  • Church of Saint Elian - Homs. Very old church, consecrated in 432 AD and in use up to this day. Valuable are the frescoes which, possibly, are made in the 6th century AD and depictg Jesus, Mary, Apostles.
  • Church of Saint Simeon Stylites - Aleppo. Ruins of an enormous church, the oldest existing Byzantine church which was built in the 475 AD.
  • Deir Ali church - Rif Dimashq. Remnants of Marcionite church which contains inscription from 318 AD. This inscription contains the oldest mention of Jesus.
  • Dura-Europos church - Deir ez-Zor. One of the oldest Christian house churches - a family house which was converted into church sometimes around 233 - 256 AD. Possibly the oldest church in the world. It is adorned with frescoes - possibly the oldest Christian paintings.
  • Fafertin Church - Aleppo. Ruins of very old church which was built in 372 AD.
  • Kharab Shams Basilica - Aleppo. Ruins of enormous basilica, one of the best preserved church buildings in this region. Basilica was built in the 4th century AD.
  • Qalb Loze Church - Idlib. One of the best preserved Byzantine churches in this region, built in the 460s AD. Early example of Romanesque architecture style.
  • St. Mary Church of the Holy Belt - Homs. A church which is built over very old underground church (the 4th century AD or even 59 AD!). In this building is located valuable relic - section of the belt of Mary, mother of Jesus.
Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, Syria
Umayyad Mosque in Damascus / american_rugbier, / CC BY-SA 2.0

Mosques

  • Al-Omari Mosque - Daraa. Beautiful, old mosque, built in 721 AD.
  • Great Mosque of Aleppo - Aleppo. Ancient mosque, present one built in the 13th century, minaret from 1090 or older. According to legend here is buried father of John the Baptist.
  • Umayyad Mosque - Damascus. This is one of largest and oldest mosques in world and is of great importance to Christians as well, reportedly containing the head of John the Baptist. It was built in 706-715 AD and before this time served as a church.

Ancient theatres and stadiums

Bosra Roman Theatre, Syria
Bosra Roman Theatre / Arian Zwegers, / CC BY 2.0
  • Amrit stadium - Tartus. Enormous rock-cut structure - 225 m long and 30 - 40 m wide stadium. This stadium was built around 1500 BC: well before the Greek Olympic Games and shows that Phoenicians may have had served for sacred competitions.
  • Apamea Roman Theatre - Hama. One of the largest Roman theatres, with a diameter of 139 m and more than 20 000 places for seating.
  • Bosra Roman Theatre - Daraa. Large, well preserved Roman theatre, built in the first half of the 2nd century AD. This was one of the largest Roman theatres ever built, with a room for 15,000 spectators.
  • Palmyra Roman Theatre - Homs. Large, well preserved ans partly renewed Roman theatre. It was built in the early 1st century AD.

Other man made landmarks

  • Azm Palace (Azem Palace) - Damascus. Former residence of Damascus governor, built in 1750. This ornate building is well preserved example of local architecture. Now here is housed museum.
  • Great Colonnade of Apamea - Hama. Impressive colonnaded avenue, which was built in the second century AD. Collonade was almost 2 km long and thus - one of most impressive ones in the Roman world.
  • Heraqla - Al-Raqqah. Enormous, enigmatic structure - unfinished monument to Harun al-Rashid, reportedly connected to his conquest of Herakleia in 806 AD. Approximately 10 m tall walls enclose 100 by 102 m large area, but this structure is surrounded by outer ringwall which has a diameter of 500 m.
  • Noria in Hama City, Syria
    The ancient waterwheel - noria in Hama City / Franco Pecchio , / CC BY 2.0
    House of Saint Ananias - Damascus. Underground structure. This is the possible house of Ananias - man who baptized Saul (Paul the Apostle). Later, in the 5th - 6th century AD here was Byzantine church.
  • Muhammadia noria - Hama. Largest and oldest remaining noria - ancient waterwheel, which was built in 1361 and had a diameter of 22 m. It is possible that was burned down in summer 2014.
  • Palmyra necropolis (Valley of the Tombs) - Homs. Approximately 1 km long valley with numerous very ornate tombs of the inhabitants of ancient Palmyra. Walls of many tombs are adorned with the sculptures of the "souls" of the deceased.
  • Royal Palace of Ugarit - Latakia. Remnants of enormous palace which served as a residence to powerful rulers of Ugarit. This palace was built between the 15th and 13th centuries BC and had some 90 rooms in two floors.

List of described attractions by directorates

Syria is divided into 14 directorates. Here below they are listed in alphabetical order:

Aleppo
Al-Hasakah
Al-Raqqah
Al-Suwayda
Damascus
Daraa
Deiz ez-Zor
Hama
Homs
ArrowPalmyraAncient cities, Abandoned cities
Idlib
Latakia
Quneitra
Rif Dimashq
Tartus

Map of Syria

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