Beginning in 1095, Syria was a target of the Crusades, but the Arabs ultimately defeated the Christian invaders.
The Turkish Ottoman Empire took control in 1516 and ruled the area for four hundred years.
Syria is the name that was given to the region by the Greeks and Romans and probably derives from the Babylonian suri.
Arabs traditionally referred to Syria and a large, vaguely defined surrounding area as Sham, which translates as "the northern region," "the north," "Syria," or "Damascus." Arabs continued to refer to the area as Sham up until the twentieth century.
There are two natural lakes: Arram in the crater of an extinct volcano in the Golan Heights and Daraa along the Jordanian border.
There are several artificial lakes created by dams that supply irrigation and electrical power.
As a result of colonial influence, French and English (French in particular) are understood and used in interactions with tourists and other foreigners. The coat of arms displays a hawk, which is the emblem of Muhammad, the founder of the Islamic faith.
Hafez al-Assad, the leader of a radical wing of the Arab Socialist party, the Baath, seized control in 1971.
He cracked down hard on dissent and in 1982 killed thousands of members of the the Muslim Brotherhood opposition organization.
That name still is used to refer to the entire area of Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and the West Bank and has become a symbol of Arab unity. Syria borders Turkey to the north, Iraq to the east, Israel and Jordan to the south, and Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea to the west.
It is 71,000 square miles (183,900 square kilometers) in area.
After independence, civilian rule was short-lived, and the early 1950s saw a succession of coups, after which Syria formed the United Arab Republic with Egypt in 1958.