SYRIA

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SYRIA ; a country of Western Asia, bordering on the Mediterranean sea, and forming a part of the Ottoman empire, (q. v.) It is called by the Arabs AlScham, or Bar el Cham; by the Turks and Persians, Sur, or Suristan; and in the Scriptures, Aram. It has Asia Minor, or Natolia, to the north, the .Euphrates and the great Arabian desert on the east, Arabia Petraea to the south, and the Mediterranean on the west. It is divided into four pachalics, Aleppo, Tripoli, Damascus and Acre. Square miles, about 50,000; population, 2,400,000. The chief towns are Aleppo, Damascus, Hamah, Hems, Jerusalem, Antioch; the seaports, Alexandretta, Tripoli, Bairout, Saida (Sidon), Sur (Tyre), Acre and Jaffa. The leading features in the physical aspect of Syria consist of the great mountainous chains of Lebanon, or Libanus, and AntiLibanus, extending from north to south, and the great desert lying on the southeast and east. The valleys are of great fertility, and yield abundance of gram, vines, mulberries, tobacco, olives, excellent fruits, as oranges, figs, pistachios, &c. The climate, in the inhabited parts, is exceedingly fine. The commerce has never been so great in modern as in ancient times, and has of late diminished. An extensive land communication was formerly carried on from Syria with Arabia, Persia, and the interior of Asia; but it has been interrupted by the disturbed state of the countries. Syria is inhabited by various descriptions of people, but Turks and Greeks form the basis of the population in the cities. The only tribes that can be considered as peculiar to Syria are the tenants of the heights of Lebanon. The most remarkable of these are the Druses and Maronites. (See the articles.) The general language is Arabic: the soldiers and officers of government speak Turkish. Of the old Syriac no traces exist. No country was more celebrated in antiquity than Syria. In the southwest was the land of promise, the country of the Israelites, and the cradle of Christianity. (See Palestine.) Phoenicia (q. v.), particularly its cities of Tyre and Sidon, were famous for commerce. Damascus was long the capital of a powerful kingdom, and Antioch was once a royal residence, and accounted the third city in the world in wealth and population. Balbec and Palmyra still exhibit splendid ruins of their ancient greatness. (See the articles.) Here have the Assyrians, Jews, Greeks, Parthians, Romans, Saracens, the crusaders, and the Turks, struggled at different periods for possession. Ninus, Semiramis, Sesostris, Alexander, Pompey, Antony, Csesar, Titus, Aurelian, &c. ; at a later period, Godfrey of Bouillon, Richard Cceur de Lion, Saladin, &c. (see Crusades); and, still more recently, Napoleon and Mohammed Ali, have in turn acted a part on the plains of Syria. Ignorance, superstition and barbarism now cover the land, and no traces of its civilization remain but ruins. (See Turkey.)