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Historical ruins of the Old City, Palmyra

Syria is a country in ruins. The place is full of them: cast-aside castles, teetering teatros and fallen-down fortresses. Syria has squirmed under the thumb of empire builders from Rome, Persia, Egypt, Turkey and Babylon, and every last one of them has left their architectural tag on the place.

The vestiges of Roman Palmyra are one of the Middle East's top sites, and Syria also lays claim to the oldest continuously occupied city, the spunkiest Crusader castle, the best preserved Roman theatre and the monument to the silliest martyr.

Admittedly, Syria is still on the US State Department's list of the seven countries sponsoring terrorism, but don't let that put you off. The Syrian government may not be among the world's most benevolent, but the Syrian people are renowned for their friendliness and hospitality. Just keep abreast of world events that may increase tensions and avoid demonstrations and political gatherings.

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