What is the Capital of Syria?

Damascus is the capital of Syria. It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, with a history dating back thousands of years.

Damascus, the capital city of Syria
Damascus, the capital city of Syria.

Damascus serves as the country’s political, cultural, and economic center. The city is known for its historical architecture and its role as a focal point in Middle Eastern history and politics.

Where is Damascus?

Close up location of Damascus, and its neighboring major cities and countries
Close up location of Damascus, and its neighboring major cities and countries.

Damascus is located in southwestern Syria, near the country’s borders with Lebanon and Jordan. It is situated along the Barada River, which flows through the eastern foothills of the Anti-Lebanon mountain range.

The city’s geographical coordinates are approximately 33.5 °N latitude and 36.3 °E longitude. Within Syria, Damascus is relatively close to other major Syrian cities like Homs and Aleppo, about 85 miles (137 kilometers) from Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, and around 135 miles (217 kilometers) from Amman, the capital of Jordan.

History of Damascus

Damascus has been a hub for many civilizations, including the Arameans, Romans, and Muslims, each leaving a unique imprint on the city’s culture and architecture.

Before the arrival of the Romans, Damascus was a major settlement due to its fertile land and strategic location along ancient trade routes. The Arameans were among the first to fortify it, making the city a center for commerce and governance in the region.

Temple of Jupiter, Damascus, reflecting Damascus's rich Roman past
Temple of Jupiter, Damascus, reflecting Damascus’s rich Roman past, serves as a reminder of the city’s multi-layered history, stretching back thousands of years.

Various early civilizations like the Canaanites and the Phoenicians also interacted with the city, leaving a tapestry of cultural influences that would lay the groundwork for its future importance.

When Damascus became part of the Roman Empire in 64 BCE after General Pompey had annexed western Syria, the city experienced considerable infrastructural development. Roman engineering brought aqueducts, roads, and monumental buildings.

The Temple of Jupiter was one of the most magnificent Roman additions, transforming Damascus into a key Roman city on the trade route known as the Via Maris, which connected Egypt and Mesopotamia.

Historical oriental architecture in an alley in the Ancient City of Damascus
Historical oriental architecture in an alley in the Ancient City of Damascus.

After the Roman Empire split, Damascus fell under Byzantine rule. During this period, Christianity gained prominence. Churches were built, and the city became a Christian theological center. However, this period also increased internal strife, leaving Damascus more susceptible to external invasions.

Captured by Muslim forces in 634 AD, Damascus underwent a transformative change. The city became an Islamic capital under the Umayyad Caliphate (661-750 AD).

The Umayyad Mosque, constructed during this time, signified the city’s pivotal role in Islamic culture and governance. Scholars and theologians flocked to Damascus, making it an intellectual hub.

After the fall of the Umayyad Caliphate, the city saw rule from a succession of Islamic dynasties, including the Abbasids, Fatimids, and Ayyubids. During these times, Damascus retained its cultural significance. Schools, libraries, and markets flourished, and the city became a melting pot for Islamic arts and sciences.

Later, Ottomans took control of Damascus in the early 16th century and invested in its infrastructure, which led to architectural developments, such as new mosques and public baths, reflecting the Ottoman style. Trade and crafts experienced a renaissance, with Damascus becoming known for textiles, metalwork, and other artisanal goods.

Hejaz Railway Station, built during the Ottoman era, was a key point connecting Damascus to Mecca
Hejaz Railway Station, built during the Ottoman era, was a key point connecting Damascus to Mecca.

The post-World War I era saw Damascus under French control. The French aimed to modernize and divide the city, reinforcing religious and ethnic communities as separate quarters. This period was marked by a rising nationalist sentiment among Syrians, who gradually organized resistance against French rule, culminating in independence in 1946.

Following independence, Damascus modernized rapidly, with new buildings, institutions, and public services emerging. It became the epicenter of Syrian politics and economics. The latter half of the 20th century saw the city involved in regional conflicts, including tensions with Israel and participation in broader Arab nationalist movements.

Today, Damascus is deeply affected by the ongoing Syrian conflict, which started in 2011. Despite the trials, Damascus remains an important political and cultural symbol in the Middle East.

Features of Damascus

In Damascus, the fusion of ancient and modern is palpable. As you wander through the city, you can’t help but notice the contrast between narrow, winding alleys filled with traditional shops and contemporary avenues lined with modern buildings.

One of the city’s most striking features is its architecture, a mosaic of influences from different periods and cultures. Stone archways stand proudly alongside modern glass structures, providing a visual timeline of the city’s multifaceted history.

All these features make Damascus not just a capital city but also a living museum, a culinary hotspot, and a center for intellectual and artistic pursuits. It is a place where history isn’t just studied; it’s experienced in every corner, tasted in every meal, and seen in every structure and street.

Geography and Climate

The cityscape of Damascus
The cityscape of Damascus, revealing an amalgamation of ancient and modern.

Damascus experiences a semi-arid climate, with hot summers and mild, wet winters. The Anti-Lebanon mountain range to the west impacts the local environment by blocking some moisture from the Mediterranean Sea.

This results in relatively lower humidity and precipitation than other Middle Eastern cities. Although the Barada River is now mostly diminished, it historically provided the essential water supply for agriculture and daily life.


The lively streets of Damascus, an ever-changing tableau of local life
The lively streets of Damascus, an ever-changing tableau of local life, from bustling markets to traditional artisan workshops.

Damascus is home to over 1.7 million residents. The population of Damascus is diverse, reflecting its long history as a crossroads for various civilizations.

Before the Syrian conflict began in 2011, the city was one of the most populous in Syria. However, the war has led to notable demographic changes, including internal displacement and an influx of refugees from other parts of the country.

Historically, Damascus has been home to many religious and ethnic communities, including Sunni Muslims, Christians, and smaller groups like Alawites and Druze. The city has long been a melting pot of languages, traditions, and customs.


Sabaa Bahrat Square, a vital hub of economic activity in Damascus
Central Bank of Syria in the Sabaa Bahrat Square, a vital hub of economic activity in Damascus.

Damascus serves as the economic hub of Syria, although ongoing conflicts have severely impacted its financial health. Before the war, the city was a center for various industries, including textiles, pharmaceuticals, and information technology.

It also boasted a flourishing tourism sector, attracting visitors keen to explore its historical landmarks and cultural heritage. In recent years, however, many businesses have shuttered, and the local economy has contracted significantly.

Nonetheless, small-scale trade and craftsmanship continue to be a part of the city’s economic landscape, as do services like healthcare and education. The city’s strategic location near international borders has historically made it a crucial commercial gateway. Still, this role has been diminished due to current geopolitical factors.

Things to Do and Places to See in Damascus

1. Umayyad Mosque

Panoramic day photo of the great mosque of the umayyads
Umayyad Mosque, one of the largest, oldest, and most significant Islamic sites in the world.

The Umayyad Mosque, also known as the Great Mosque of Damascus, is a monumental structure with immense religious and cultural importance. As one of the earliest mosques built, it is a pilgrimage destination for devout Muslims, historians, architects, and tourists captivated by its religious and aesthetic resonance.

The mosque features expansive courtyards, grand prayer halls, and towering minarets. Its walls are adorned with intricate mosaics that depict a paradisiacal vision, complete with rivers and trees. The sanctuary also houses a shrine believed to contain the head of John the Baptist, revered in both Islam and Christianity.

2. Azem Palace

Damascus syria may 2022: inside the historical landmark and museum
Azem Palace, built in the 18th century, is a quintessential example of Damascene homes, renowned for its intricate interiors and courtyard.

Azem Palace is a marvel of Ottoman-era domestic architecture in the heart of the Old City. It exemplifies the lavish lifestyle of the aristocrats of its time and now serves as a museum displaying various artifacts and crafts.

The palace complex comprises several courtyards, each serving different functions. The living quarters and guest rooms are embellished with colorful tiles, wooden screens, and frescoes. The central courtyard garden is meticulously landscaped, replete with fountains and fragrant flowers.

3. Souq Al-Hamidiyah

Souq Al-Hamidiyah, not just a place for commerce but a vivid theater of daily life in Damascus
Souq Al-Hamidiyah, not just a place for commerce but a vivid theater of daily life in Damascus.

Souq Al-Hamidiyah is more than just a market; it’s a sensory journey through the heart of Damascus. As one of the central shopping districts, it is a hub of activity where the city’s essence comes to life. The souq is a covered market with a unique corrugated iron roof punctured with holes that let rays of sunlight filter through.

The souq is a feast for the senses and an ideal place to purchase traditional Syrian goods as souvenirs or gifts. Whether you’re haggling for spices, trying local sweets, or simply people-watching, you’ll find it an authentic Damascene experience that encapsulates the local culture and commerce.

4. Saladin Statue

The Saladin Statue, commemorating the Muslim leader famed for his chivalry and tactical brilliance during the Crusades
The Saladin Statue, commemorating the Muslim leader famed for his chivalry and tactical brilliance during the Crusades.

The statue of Saladin in Damascus stands as an enduring symbol of heroism, chivalry, and unity. Situated near the entrance of the Citadel, this bronze monument honors the legendary Muslim leader.

Beyond being a photo opportunity, the Saladin statue is a gateway to delve into Middle Eastern history. It sparks interest in the Crusades, the era of Saladin, and the complex interplay between different cultures and religions during medieval times.

5. Khan As’ad Pasha

Khan As'ad Pasha, constructed in the 18th century, was a central marketplace and resting spot for travelers
Khan As’ad Pasha, constructed in the 18th century, was a central marketplace and resting spot for travelers.

Khan As’ad Pasha, situated in the Al-Buzuriyah Souq in Damascus, is one of the most splendid caravanserais in the Middle East. This 18th-century structure showcases the city’s mercantile history and its significance along ancient trade routes.

Here, you can experience the bygone era of traders, craftsmen, and caravan leaders who passed through Damascus. The khan today hosts a variety of cultural events and artisan shops. It’s a perfect venue to experience the region’s evolution of trade and commerce.

6. House of St Ananias

Inside the house of St. Ananias, believed to be where Ananias baptized Saul, who later became the Apostle Paul
Inside the house of St. Ananias, believed to be where Ananias baptized Saul, who later became the Apostle Paul.

The House of St. Ananias offers a serene and historically critical stop for anyone intrigued by Christian history. This humble chapel in the ancient Christian quarter of Damascus holds great significance for the faithful.

This site offers a spiritual pause in the otherwise hectic city environment. It’s an ideal destination for those interested in early Christian history and biblical stories or seeking a peaceful retreat.

7. Mausoleum of Saladin

Mausoleum of Saladin, the resting place of Saladin
Mausoleum of Saladin, the resting place of Saladin, a leader held in high regard across multiple cultures.

The Mausoleum of Saladin, a modest yet profound structure, is near the Umayyad Mosque. It is the final resting place for one of the most revered leaders in Islamic history. Built of stone and marble, the mausoleum is an austere structure adorned with a green dome, a color often associated with Islam.

The interior is sparsely decorated, reflecting the humility that Saladin was known for. Visitors can pay their respects and gain insights into the values and history of the Islamic world. The site also contemplates the life and contributions of Saladin, a figure who embodies cross-cultural respect and wisdom.

8. Citadel of Damascus

Citadel of Damascus, once a Roman temple and later a fortress
The Citadel of Damascus, once a Roman temple and later a fortress, has served multiple purposes and rulers throughout its history.

The Citadel of Damascus stands as a monumental testimony to the military and cultural heritage of the city. This fortification has guarded Damascus through different epochs, from Roman to medieval times.

The fortress features robust walls, towers, and gates. Inside, you’ll find remains of palaces, baths, and administrative buildings. The Citadel has undergone various modifications, each layer adding to its complex history.

9. Tekkiye Mosque

The tekkiye mosque or sultan selim mosque turkish: selimiye camii
Tekkiye Mosque, built in the Ottoman period, reflects Turkish architectural influences and is known for its serenity and well-preserved design.

The Tekkiye Mosque features a large central dome flanked by smaller domes and elegant minarets. The interior showcases traditional Iznik tiles and Arabic calligraphy, while the surrounding complex includes a mausoleum, gardens, and courtyards.

The mosque offers an atmosphere of tranquility and spiritual reflection. It’s an opportunity for architecture enthusiasts to study the hallmarks of Ottoman design and aesthetics. The surrounding gardens provide a peaceful setting for contemplation or strolls.

10. National Museum of Syria

National Museum of Syria, housing artifacts from various epochs
The National Museum of Syria, housing artifacts from various epochs, is a treasure trove for anyone keen to delve into Syria’s multifaceted history.

The National Museum of Syria is a repository of the country’s rich and diverse cultural heritage. Located in central Damascus, the museum is an educational platform that spans millennia of Syrian history.

The museum provides a comprehensive overview of Syria’s historical and cultural landscape. Whether you’re interested in ancient civilizations, Islamic art, or the archaeology of the region, a visit to the National Museum is a rewarding and enlightening experience.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Damascus safe for tourists?

Given the conflicting information about safety, it’s essential to approach this topic with nuance. Travel advisories from sources like US Department of State and UK Foreign Travel Advice warn against travel to Syria due to risks like terrorism, civil unrest, kidnapping, and armed conflict. However, some travelers and sources suggest that Damascus is relatively safer than other regions in Syria, especially in neighborhoods near major tourist attractions.

What is the best time to visit Damascus?

The best time to visit Damascus is generally in the spring (March to May) and autumn (September to November) when the weather is mild, making it more comfortable to explore outdoor attractions.

What currency is used in Damascus?

The Syrian Pound is the local currency. Carrying some cash is advisable, as not all places accept credit or debit cards.

How can I get around the city?

Damascus has a range of public transport options, including buses and taxis. While there is no metro system, the city is relatively easy to navigate.

Are there English-speaking guides available?

Yes, English-speaking guides are usually available, especially at major tourist attractions. However, booking one in advance is a good idea to ensure availability.

What are the must-see attractions?

Damascus is rich in historical and cultural landmarks. Must-visit places include the Umayyad Mosque, Azem Palace, Souq Al-Hamidiyah, and the National Museum of Syria.

Is it easy to find halal food?

Yes, Damascus offers a variety of halal food options, from traditional Syrian dishes to international cuisine.
What should I wear when visiting religious sites?
For religious sites like mosques, it’s advisable for women to wear long skirts or pants and to cover their heads with a scarf. Men should wear long pants.

Are there any local customs I should be aware of?

It’s essential to show respect for local traditions and religious practices, especially during Islamic holy months like Ramadan. Public displays of affection are generally frowned upon.

Do I need a visa to enter Syria?

Visa requirements differ depending on your nationality. It’s crucial to check with your local Syrian consulate or embassy for the most accurate and current information.

Is bargaining common in markets?

Yes, bargaining is part of the culture, especially in markets like Souq Al-Hamidiyah. However, it’s essential to do so respectfully.

Can I take photos everywhere?

While photography is generally allowed in public spaces and tourist sites, taking pictures of military installations or personnel is forbidden. Always ask for permission when photographing people.

Final Thoughts

Damascus is a city steeped in history, culture, and religious significance. While it offers an abundance of fascinating landmarks, museums, and architectural wonders, it’s important to note that safety conditions can vary and potential risks exist. Exercising caution and staying updated on local conditions is crucial for those who decide to take the journey.

Despite the challenges, Damascus remains a captivating destination for the adventurous traveler eager to delve into a rich tapestry of human civilization. If you do opt to visit, you’ll find a city that serves as a living museum, a center of religious diversity, and a place of enduring economic vitality. The experience promises to be as enlightening as it is complex.

Image Sources and Copyright Information
  • Political Map of Syria: © Peter Hermes Furian/Shutterstock
  • Map with Pin on Damascus Location: © PredragLasica/Shutterstock
  • Nighttime View of the Temple of Jupiter in Damascus: © Martijn Munneke/Wikimedia | CC BY 2.0 Generic
  • Narrow Alley in Old City of Damascus: © Anton_Ivanov/Shutterstock
  • Historic Hejaz Railway Station Building with Vintage Train: © Kayihan Bolukbasi/Shutterstock
  • Panoramic View of Damascus Cityscape: © Anton_Ivanov/Shutterstock
  • Bustling Street Scene with Locals in Damascus: © mohammad alzain/Shutterstock
  • Courtyard of the Umayyad Mosque with Minaret: © mohammad alzain/Shutterstock
  • Courtyard of Al Azm Palace: © hanohiki/Shutterstock
  • Bustling Market Street with Syrian Flag: © Torsten Pursche/Shutterstock
  • Statue of Saladin on Horseback: © Adwo/Shutterstock
  • Interior View of Khan As’ad Pasha Al-Azem with Arched Windows and Patterned Walls: © hanohiki/Shutterstock
  • Interior of the House of Saint Ananias: © Jan Smith/Flickr
  • Mausoleum of Saladin with Ancient Columns: © hanohiki/Shutterstock
  • Citadel of Damascus under Blue Sky: © hanohiki/Shutterstock
  • Courtyard of Tekkiye Mosque with Fountain: © Dr.MYM/Shutterstock
  • Exterior View of National Museum of Syria with Garden and Mosaic: © Torsten Pursche/Shutterstock