Syria and Lebanon have a rich and spectacular heritage, with some of the oldest and most important archaeological sites in the world. As part of the Fertile Crescent the region saw the very origins of agriculture and the rise of the world’s first civilisations. Situated at the intersection of three continents this land has seen people, trade and ideas converge over thousands of years, creating a vibrant cultural mix and a highly significant archaeology.
Early Cities: By about 3000 BC early cities such as Mari, Ebla and Ugarit flourished as trade links between Mesopotamia, the Mediterranean and Egypt. The National Museum in Damascus displays the art and artefacts from these cities, and travellers can also visit the Bronze Age city of Ebla, near Aleppo.
Early Empires: By about 2000 BC charismatic kings extended their control over the city-states of the Near East, creating the first empires in history; the Akkadians, the Assyrians and the Babylonians all established supreme dynasties here. But the ethnic diversity of the region ensured an underlying mosaic of smaller states and biblical kingdoms; Amorites, Canaanites, Philistines, Israelites, Phoenicians and Aramaeans all became part of a rich and potent political and ethnic make-up.
Phoenicia: By 1000 BC Phoenician seafarers of coastal cities such as Byblos, Sidon and Tyre were very active in transmitting eastern culture westwards across the Mediterranean. The recently renovated National Museum in Bierut is the best place to experience the dynamism and glories of Phoenician culture and craftsmanship.
Assyria: Between the 9th and 6th centuries BC, the Assyrians held sway across the whole region, and their name was subsequently attached to it. Their capital at Nineveh is now in Iraq, but a visit to the Archaeological Museum in Aleppo reveals fine examples of Assyrian sculpture from northern Syria.
The location of Syria between continents invited early international interest from rival foreign powers, including Persians, Greeks, Romans and Arabs. Some brought eastern influences, others brought western influences, but all have left their mark on Syria and Lebanon.
Roman Cities: The most impressive remains are the Roman cities of Palmyra, Apamea, Bosra and Baalbek. Palmyra’s desert location is particularly striking, with its tall ruins standing proud and peaceful in the sands, in stark contrast to Damascus with its deep archaeology hidden below its still bustling city streets.
Crusader Castles: And no visit to Syria would be complete without seeing the magnificent Crusader castle of Krak des Chevaliers, a powerful reminder of how Syria’s location between east and west has attracted the succession of foreign interests and conflicts which continue to affect the region today.
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