A Snapshot of Syrian History
Syria’s importance is not only down to its location – bridging the east and the west – but the immense culture and history that bestows one of the world’s oldest settlements.
Christianity was founded in the Middle East and had Emperor Constantine of Rome not embraced it as his chosen religion in the 4th century, it would have surely continued to travel east rather than west. Syria was one of the earliest adopters after the persecution of Christians by the Romans and Jews in Jerusalem. The faith is still practiced there today and accounts for 10% of the population, with the highest concentration in Aleppo.
Aleppo was a commercial hub over the centuries given its position at the end of the ‘Silk Road’. This was a trade passage allowing the transportation of Chinese ceramics, spices, tea, silks and Persian carpets travelling from the east, through Aleppo to their destinations in the west. Aleppo itself also hosted the world’s largest bazaar which further cemented the gravitas of Syria in commercial history.
Upon the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, this trade to Europe (hence Shakespeare’s reference to Aleppo in ‘Merchant to Venice’) consequently declined in value and volume as Aleppo was no longer the vital connection. In 1918 the English and French created a new map of the Middle East which meant that ‘Greater Syria’, part of the Byzantine and latterly Ottoman Empires, was divided into what is now called Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Israel and western parts of Iraq. To put its proximity in context, the distance between Damascas and Beruit, is less than 85km, and Damacas to Jerusalem is only 220km.
To conclude its chequered history, the blend of settlers ranged from the Romans and then Byzantines for the first seven centuries of the last millenia, numerous Crusaders of the 11th century, the Muslim Ottoman Turks in the 16th century, to the European families who had settled in Aleppo due to the lucrative trading via the Silk Road. This diverse past has influenced life in Syria in every way – the exchange of knowledge, religions and cuisine, culminating in a country that is ecletic and unexpected with one of the most culturally rich heritages in the world.