Damascus (Arabic: Dimashq), Syria, the country's capital and largest city. Damascus is said to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world. It lies in southwestern Syria about 50 miles (80 km) southeast of Beirut, Lebanon. The city is 2,200 feet (670 m) above sea level in the valley of the Barada River at the foot of the Anti-Lebanon Mountains. Damascus has a semiarid climate with only 9 inches (230 mm) of rain a year. The temperature sometimes falls to below freezing in January, the coldest month, and in July it may rise to well above 100° F. (38° C.).
Surrounding Damascus is the Ghutah, an oasis with luxuriant orchards and fields. Towering above the city are the minarets of many mosques. The older part of the city, enclosed by the ruins of an ancient wall, stands on the south bank of the Barada. The newer sections and the suburbs spread out from the old part.
In the old section most streets are narrow and winding. Surviving from Biblical times is the “Street called Straight,” which runs between the east and west gates of the old walled section. Like some of the other ancient streets, it is covered over with a roof and has shops and bazaars on both sides. The new sections of the city have modern buildings, fine hotels, and broad streets.
Damascus is an Arab city but has minorities of many nationalities. The majority of the people are Muslims. The city has more than 200 mosques. The Omayyad, or Great, Mosque, built in the early eighth century on the site of a Christian basilica, is noted for its beauty and for a shrine said to contain the head of John the Baptist. The tomb of Saladin is nearby.
Prominent among the city's institutions are the National Museum, the Assad National Library, the Arab Academy, and the University of Damascus.
Fields and orchards adjacent to the city are watered by canals from the Barada River. Damascus has much small-scale industry. Products include dried fruit, flour, oils, tobacco, leather goods, glass, and cement. Craftsmen produce damask, fine jewelry, and inlaid work in wood and metal. Damascus steel, once widely used in sword blades, is no longer made.
Damascus was formerly known as a “port in the desert” because of its importance on caravan routes. The caravan trails are now highways. Railways link Damascus with cities in Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey. The city is served by several airlines.