Syria has various tourist attractions of which six are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. On UNESCO’s tentative list, there are 12 more sites from Syria including Norias of Hama, Tartus, and Ebla. Syria experienced a considerable increase in tourism in 2010, with about 8.5 million tourists visiting the country, compared to 2009 which had approximately 6 million, according to the Syrian Tourism Ministry. When the Syrian Civil War broke out in March 2011, the country’s tourism sector took a steep decline. According to UNESCO, the war affected all World Heritage Sites in Syria. The six sites are currently listed as World Heritage in Danger, since 2013, due to the country’s situation.
6. Ancient City of Aleppo
In 1986, UNESCO listed Aleppo as a Cultural World Heritage Site under category (iii) and (iv). The recognition by UNESCO was due to the city remaining intact since its construction around the 12th to 16th century. The Ancient City of Aleppo covers an area of 1.41 square miles. The site has mixed architectural styles influenced by its previous rulers including Mamluks, Romans, Ottomans, and Byzantines. Some of the main sites in Aleppo include souqs and khans, such the Al-Madina Souq, and historical buildings such as the Citadel, which dates back to the 1st millennium BC, and an ancient palace from the 12th century called Al-Matbakh al-Ajami. The city also has Madrasas such as the Al-Halawiyah Madrasa and Al-Shadbakhtiyah Madrasa built in 1124 and 1193 respectively, and a couple of places of worship. Preservation of the site had major contributions from the Aga Khan Foundation and the German Technical Cooperation. The 2011 Syrian Civil War resulted in severe damage to the Umayyad Mosque complex, leaving it in rubbles and destroying the minaret, which was built in the 11th century.
Bosra is famed for its Roman Theatre from the 2nd century. The ancient Roman city was a stopover for pilgrims heading to Mecca. It was listed by UNESCO as a cultural world heritage site in 1980. Bosra covers an area of 287.1 acres and is a significant archaeological site, which contains ruins from the times of the Muslims, Romans, and Byzantines. Within the city, there are Christian churches, Roman and Nabatean monuments, Madrasahs, and mosques. One of the oldest remaining mosques in the history of Islam, Al-Omari Mosque, is in Bosra. During the Byzantine period, Bosra was the seat of the archbishop. The Arab Muslims captured Bosra first before other Byzantine cities. The Syrian Civil War destroyed partially the old city of Bosra, with constant fighting and shelling. On December 22, the Roman Theatre suffered an attack.
The ancient city of Damascus was listed by UNESCO as Cultural World Heritage site in 1979. The historic city was established in the 3rd millennium BC and covers an area of 0.3325 square miles. The site portrays Roman, Islamic, Hellenistic, and Byzantine cultures among others. The Ancient City of Damascus has many attractions including souqs and khans such as Al-Hamidiyah Souq, which is covered by a metal arch about 33 feet and is the largest in Syria, as well as Madrasas such as Al-Adiliyah Madrasa from the 13th century and Al-Qilijiyah Madrasa. Historic buildings in the ancient city include the Temple of Jupiter, Citadel of Damascus, and a Roman street called Damascus Straight Street measuring 4,921 feet in length. Damascus has churches such as House of Saint Ananias and Cathedral of the Dormition of Our Lady. Mosques at the heritage site include Sayyidah Ruqayya Mosque and Umayyad Mosque. The Syrian Civil War ruined most of the buildings in the city.
3. The Dead Cities
The Dead or Forgotten Cities are between Idlib and Aleppo in Syria and consist of 700 abandoned settlements, covering an area of about 47 square miles. In 2011, the Dead Cities were listed by UNESCO as cultural World Heritage Sites. It is believed that these cities were prosperous along trade routes. Arabian conquest of the region led to a change in the trade routes, which resulted in people moving to other cities from the 8th to the 10th century. The site preserves the remains of a society dating back to the late antiquity period as well as early Christianity. The settlements have ruins that include churches, dwellings, pagan temples, and bathhouses. Some of the archeological sites and dead cities include Church of Saint Simeon Stylites, Ain Dara temple, Bamuqa, and Banabil.
2. Krak des Chevaliers and Qal’at Salah El-Din
UNESCO listed Krak des Chevaliers, and Qal’at Salah El-Din as Cultural world heritage site in 2006. The limestone-built castles represent fortresses from the Crusader period that is still surviving. Shibl al-Dawla Nasr built the first castle of Krak des Chevaliers in 1031, and the Knights Hospitaller built the second one from 1142 to 1170. The 10th century Byzantine, 12th century Frankish, and the Ayyubid dynasty left features that remain intact in Qal’at Salah El-Din. The locations of the castles on high grounds made them perfect defense fortresses. The site suffered partial damage during the Syrian Civil War. There are reports of repairs done on Krak des Chevaliers.
Located in Homs Governorate in Syria, the Site of Palmyra has had archaeological findings from the Neolithic period. In 1980 UNESCO designated Palmyra as a Cultural Heritage Site. Founded in the 3rd millennium BC and abandoned in 1932, Palmyra covers an area of 200 acres. The cultures portrayed at the site have Aramaic, Arabic, and Greco-Roman influences. Notable structures include public buildings such as the Senate, the Agora of Palmyra, and the Tariff Court. Some temples at the site include the Temple of Bel dating back to AD 32, the Temple of Baalshamin from the 2nd century BC, and the Temple of Nabu. Other buildings include the Great Colonnade, the Funerary Temple no.86, and the Tetrapylon. The Islamic State captured Palmyra in 2015 during the Syrian Civil War, but on March 2, 2017, the Syrian Army took over. The ISIL destroyed many of the monuments in Palmyra including the Arch of Triumph and the Tower of Elahbel.