Damascus (Arabic: دِمَشقُ, Dimashq, commonly known as الشام al-Shām also known as the "City of Jasmin" Arabic: مدينة الياسمين Madīnatul Yāsmīn) is the capital and largest city of Syria as well as one of the country's 14 governorates. The Damascus Governorate is ruled by a governor appointed by the Minister of Interior. In addition to being widely known as the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, Damascus is a major cultural and religious center of the Levant.
Located in southwestern Syria, it is the center of a large metropolitan area of four million people. Geographically it is embedded on the eastern foothills of the Anti-Lebanon mountain range 80 km (50 mi) inland from the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea on a plateau 680 metres (2,200 ft) above sea-level. Damascus experiences a semi-arid climate due to the rain shadow effect. The Barada River flows through Damascus.
First settled in the 2nd millennium BC, it was chosen as the capital of the Umayyad Caliphate from 661-750. After the victory of the Abbasid dynasty, the seat of Islamic power was moved to Baghdad. Damascus saw a political decline throughout the Abbasid era, only to regain significant importance in the Ayyubid and Mamluk periods. During Ottoman rule, the city decayed completely while maintaining a certain cultural prestige. Today, it is the seat of the central government and all of the government ministries. Damascus was chosen as the 2008 Arab Capital of Culture.
When you enter an old souk (bazaar) in Syria, you will realize that history is something alive and tangible, something you can see, touch and smell. In Damascus, if you walk down the Street called Straight (Midhat Pasha), you might feel that you were walking alongside Saul of Tarsus, suddenly transformed into St Paul on seeing the light of faith, the light on "the road to Damascus".
A journey through a Syrian town is a journey into both the past and the present at the same time. You might happen on a Roman arch, built centuries before Christ, under which you might find a shop selling the latest electronic gadgets. Or you may pass on Ottoman caravanserai, bustling under its evocative Arabesque designs with present-day commercial activity.
Welcome to Damascus. Welcome to history.