Damascus, the capital, historically called the Fragrant City, is believed to be the oldest continuously inhabited city on the planet, and to this day remains one of the most important cultural and political centers in the Arab world.
For endless centuries Syria was was fought over and subsequently controlled by varied factions, including the Egyptian, Roman and Ottoman empires.
The Syrian economy struggled under Ottoman rule, and any attempts at rebuilding were destroyed by the Mongols.
After World War I ended, the Ottoman Turks were finally driven out, and the French influence began.
The French administered and exercised control of Syria until it finally gained its independence in 1946.
Quite typical of a newly independent country, Syria lacked political stability, and experienced a series of military coups during its first decade.
In 1958, Syria united with Egypt to form the United Arab Republic, but in 1961 the two entities separated and the Syrian Arab Republic was reestablished.
In the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, Syria lost the Golan Heights to Israel, and since then, both countries have occasionally discussed its return to Syria.
In 1976 Lebanon was absorbed in a civil war prompting Syria to invade the country in an attempt to aid the Maronite Christians, who were suffering considerably. After quickly switching sides upon their occupation, Syrian troops remained in Lebanon for the next 30 years.
During the 15 year span of the war Syria continuously attempted to gain control of Lebanon, and until their withdrawal in 2005, they remained a prominent force over Lebanon becoming heavily involved in Lebanese politics.
After the passing of Syrian president Hafez al-Assad in the year 2000, the constitution was amended in the late president's son, Bashar al-Assad's, favor, allowing the minimum age of the President from 40 to 34, and on July 10th, Bashar was elected with 97% of the vote.
On January 26, 2011 a series of protests began throughout Syria calling for political reforms, and since March of 2011, Syria has been embroiled in a bloody civil war in the wake of uprisings (considered an extension of the Arab Spring, the mass movement of revolutions and protests in the Arab world) against President Assad and the neo-Ba'athist government.
With that war, and the on-going threat of terrorism in Syria, the U.S. State Department and other governments warn westerners to avoid tourism-related travel to Syria.