Maps of Roman Syria indicate that the Barada river emptied into a lake of some size east of Damascus.
The modern Syrian state was established after the end of centuries of Ottoman control in World War I as a French mandate, and represented the largest Arab state to emerge from the formerly Ottoman-ruled Arab Levant.
It gained independence as a parliamentary republic on 24 October 1945 when Syria became a founding member of the United Nations, an act which legally ended the former French Mandate – although French troops did not leave the country until April 1946.
Its capital Damascus and largest city Aleppo are among the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world.
In the Islamic era, Damascus was the seat of the Umayyad Caliphate and a provincial capital of the Mamluk Sultanate in Egypt.
Residents, who have fled their homes, gather in the center of Damascus July 19, 2012.