Wikipedia: "Damascus (Arabic: دِمَشق / ALA-LC: Dimashq; commonly known in Syria as ash-Sham (Arabic: الشام / ash-Shām) and, known also as the City of Jasmine (Arabic: مدينة الياسمين / Madīnat al-Yāsmīn), is the capital and the second largest city of Syria. It is also the capital city of one of the country's 14 governorates. In addition to being one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, Damascus is a major cultural and religious center of the Levant. The city has an estimated population of 1,711,000 (2009 est.)
Located in southwestern Syria, Damascus is the center of a large metropolitan area of 2.6 million people (2004) Geographically embedded on the eastern foothills of the Anti-Lebanon mountain range 80 kilometres (50 mi) inland from the eastern shore of the Mediterranean on a plateau 680 metres (2,230 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 to 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."
Modern civilization began right here in the Tigris-Euphrates river valley. Also known as the Fertile Crescent or Mesopotamia, this is the place where, six thousand years ago, agriculture, writing and mathematics were brought into widespread use.The term "Middle East" comes from the British navy, which used it to describe the countries on the trade route from Europe to India and China. Everything from Afghanistan to Morocco may possibly be classified as "middle eastern", depending on whom you ask -- and when.Only a partial list of past Empires in the middle eastern territory includes Sumeria, Babylonia, Persia, the Ottoman Empire and the Roman Empire!When northern Europe was still lurking about in slimy cold stone castles playing chess, the Middle East was enjoying the flowers of poetry, luxurious craftsmanship, music and literature. In fact, the Renaissance in Europe was partly inspired by stories brought back from the middle east by travelers along the trade route.Strategic location, religious history and the world's largest supply of crude oil have kept the Middle East at the center of world activity for centuries. The saga continues.Text by Steve Smith.