The capital city of the Syrian Arab Republic, Damascus, and its surrounding metropolitan area is highlighted in this astronaut photograph from the International Space Station. Damascus is one of the oldest cities in the Middle East, with evidence of human habitation extending back to 8,000-10,000 BC. During medieval times, the city was well known as a craft and trade center specializing in the production of swords and lace; "Damascus steel" became a watchword for high-quality blades through the 19th century due to its superior properties and characteristic visual appearance.
Urban areas are readily recognizable as gray-white regions contrasting with surrounding brown to tan semi-arid landscape. The Barada River runs through Damascus, and is visible entering the metropolitan area at image top center. The Ghouta oasis, fed by the Barada River, once encircled Damascus but urban expansion has converted much of the oasis from agricultural to other land uses. A large region of agriculture extends to the southeast of Damascus, visible as extensive green fields at image lower right.
Today, the city is the center of a metropolitan area with a population of over 2.6 million (based on 2004 information from the Syria Central Bureau of Statistics). Current industries include textiles, food processing, and chemicals, with traditional artisan handcrafts still produced in the old core of Damascus. Most recently, the city has experienced unrest, military conflict, and loss of life stemming from the ongoing Syrian Civil War.