185,180 sq km (71,498 sq miles).
18 million (2014).
96.9 per sq km.
Head of state:
President Bashar al-Assad since 2000. Ahmad Saleh Touma is prime minister of Syrian National Coalition since 2013.
Head of government:
Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi since 2012.
220 volts AC, 50Hz. European-style plugs with two round pins and Italian-style plugs with three round pins in a row are used.
Until the recent civil war, Syria was a diverse destination that revelled in its antiquity. Inhabited for tens of thousands of years, the country accumulated all the cultural riches afforded by such a long history and was rightly considered one of the Middle East’s top destinations. Sadly, the war-ravaged nation is now struggling to preserve its ancient relics, which document the rise and fall of myriad civilisations.
Like its history, Syria’s landscapes are varied. Vast steppes cover much of the country, but mountains soar in the west, deserts stretch in the east and volcanic fields spread across the south. Meandering through this dusty land is the great Euphrates River, which also flows through neighbouring Iraq.
Syria was once regarded as a frontier region, bordered to the east by Persians and west by the Arabs. The country fell to the Persians in the sixth century and though it retained Christian and Jewish populations, Syria was from then on a Muslim nation.
The country’s story is littered with dramatic episodes. Syria was subsumed by empires from Babylon to Canaan, Assyria to Phoenicia; it was conquered by the Ottomans, endured a campaign by Napoleon and was invaded by the Egyptians. During the height of pan-Arabism in the 1950s, the country briefly joined with Egypt in the United Arab Republic, but seceded to form the Syrian Arab Republic in 1961.
The battles and territorial scrambles of the past have translated into a catalogue of staggering cities, such as Damascus and Aleppo, which are chock-full of stunning monuments and ancient mosques.
The uprising against the ruling Baath Party in 2011 gave way to a civil war, which continues to rage and is further complicated by the formidable presence of the jihadist militant group Islamic State. Travel to Syria is ill-advised (it is probably the most dangerous country on the planet right now) and the future remains uncertain.
Last updated: 19 October 2015
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. ‘We’ refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
The situation remains extremely volatile and dangerous. There is widespread fighting throughout Syria, including in Damsscus and its suburbs. Full scale military operations involving the use of small arms, tanks, artillery and aircraft are ongoing. The Syrian government no longer exercises control of large parts of Syria, notably in the north, south and east of the country. Areas of eastern Syria are under effective control of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which is fiercely hostile to the United Kingdom. Russia has also embarked on a wave of air strikes in Syria backing an offensive launched by troops loyal to the Assad regime.
There is a reduced number commercial flights due to the implementation of sanctions, the security situation and the high level of violence. This severely limits options for air travel and seat availability. Fighting in the vicinity of airports has caused the temporary suspension of flights. Road networks have been blocked without warning. Several major highways including Tartous-Latakia, Tartous-Homs, Latakia-Aleppo, Homs-Hama, Homs-Damascus and Damascus-Jordan continue to be intermittently closed. There are security force checkpoints on major road routes.
Fighting and road closures have affected access to some land border crossing points. Some border crossings are in the hands of opposition groups, vulnerable to attack, and/or closed. You should check the status of all routes before travelling. Don’t attempt to enter Iraq via the Syrian border, which is subject to restrictions on both sides.
Be particularly vigilant in public places and keep a low profile. Don’t film or take photographs of public gatherings, military activity or any other sensitive matter.
All foreign journalists entering Syria need special permission from the Syrian authorities. Those journalists and other foreigners in opposition-held areas are vulnerable to mistreatment by the armed groups there. A number of foreign journalists have been killed. Others have been detained by the Syrian security forces or other armed groups during the crisis. The security forces have confiscated phones, cameras and video cameras.
There are severe restrictions on unlicensed political and religious activity in Syria. The Syrian authorities have detained and deported several British nationals for unauthorised activity. Activity in opposition-held areas will also attract attention. If you are deported by the local authorities, you will not be able to return to Syria.
The escalating conflict has led to a rise in crime in some areas, including violent robbery, carjacking and kidnapping.
Road travel remains very dangerous in many parts of the country due to fighting. Driving standards and traffic systems are poor, and the accident rate is high. When there is a car accident with a pedestrian, the car driver is always legally responsible. You should avoid driving at night.
Humanitarian needs in Syria have increased significantly since the beginning of the crisis with over 12.2 million people in dire need of humanitarian aid and 4 million refugees in the region. The ongoing conflict has seriously affected public infrastructure and services. This widespread destruction has led to high unemployment, scarcity/prohibitive cost of food, lack of water, sanitation, health services and fuel.