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Damascus, in the southwest of Syria, has occupied a position of importance from the earliest times of history. The streets of the city are crooked and narrow and the sombre houses are usually without windows on the street side. Damascus has more than 200 mosques, of which only 70 are still in use. The Umayyad Mosque, or Great Mosque, is said to have been a heathen temple, then a church containing the head of John the Baptist. Other mosques of interest are the Sinani-yah, with a striking green-tiled minaret, and the Tekkeyah, which was founded in 1516. The National Museum is also in the city.
Ancient Pharaonic and Aramic scripts confirm that ‘Dameski' (i.e Damascus) enjoyed great prominence during the second and third millennium B.C. Damascus became the capital of the first Arab State at the time of the Omeyyads in 661 A.D. This marked the beginning of its golden epoch, and for a whole century it was the centre of a youthful Islamic Empire stretching from the shores of the Atlantic and the Pyrenees in the west, to the river Indus and China in the east.
The Egyptians, Babylonians, Hittites, Chaldeans and Persians have successively ruled ancient Syria. It became part of Alexander the Great's empire in 333BC, when one Alexander's generals founded the city of Antioch as its capital. Struggles between the Seleucids and the Ptolemies of Egypt followed, until 64 BC, when Syria became a province of the Roman Empire. Following the decline and collapse of the Romans and the division of the empire in the 4th century AD, Syria became a Byzantine province and remained so for almost two and a half centuries. Greater Syria, a land area incorporating Lebanon, Israel, Jordan and present-day Syria, was the site of much conflict and conquest throughout the days of the Ancient World. This conflict has continued throughout the Middle Ages and into modern times.
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