"No recorded event has occurred in the world but Damascus was in existence to receive the news of it," wrote Mark Twain after visiting Syria's capital -- known colloquially as al-Sham -- in the 1860s. "She has looked upon the dry bones of a thousand empires, and will see the tombs of a thousand more before she dies."
Over the centuries, Damascus has been conquered by a string of foreign invaders that extends from King David of Israel -- chronicled in the Old Testament -- straight through to the French, who occupied the city until 1945. In between, Damascus fell to a list of conquerors that includes the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Romans, Umayyads, Egyptian Mamluks, and Ottoman Turks. But now, roiled by the Arab Spring, the invasions are internal, with Syrian tanks and troops rolling into restive cities.
After the Umayyad conquest of Damascus in the seventh century, the Umayyad Mosque (seen above, circa 1900) was constructed on the site where a Byzantine church, a Roman temple, and before that an Aramean temple to the god of thunder and rain once stood.
Library of Congress