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A Grand Tour

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From the Mediterranean Coast to the southern desert to the fertile plain along withe border with Iraq,  Syria is a visual feast. While today's headlines paint a picture of deepening divisions and endless bloodletting, Syrians of all sects and political affiliations take pride at being a part of one of the world's most ancient civilizations. 

The photographs that follow show a glimpse of daily life Syria before the revolution. The rights to use them were generously provided by Creative Syria, a project of the Syrian Cultural Center of Montreal.

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Ruins in Palmyra, a city in central Syria, are surrounded by desert. For millenia, Palmyra served as a bustling caravan city linking Mesopotamia with the Mediterranean coast, and was known as the "Bride of the Desert." Located northeast of Damascus, the area remains a valuable archeological site to this day -- archeologists discovered what they believe to be the largest ancient Christian church in Syria in Palmyra in 2008.

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Latakia, in the northwest of the country along the Mediterranean,  is home to both ports and resorts. The city has witnessed protests during the recent uprising, and was reportedly shelled by the Syrian Navy in August while the town was under seige by President Bashar al-Assad's forces. In antiquity, Latakia was attacked frequently by invading forces looking to seize its wealth, leading it to enter a state of decline by about 1450. 

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Children sit on the streets of Latakia.

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Saladin's Castle is located to the east of Latakia. It was a stronghold of the Crusaders during the 12th century, until it was seized by the Muslim leader Saladin as part of his largely successful efforts to push back the Crusaders in the Levant.

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The rocky landscape of Hosn Sleiman in western Syria is home to an ancient temple, which once made it a popular tourist destination. 

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Waterwheels on the Orontes River in the western city of Hama. The city is known for its waterwheels, but it is more infamous as the site of a brutal crackdown by President Hafez al-Assad's regime in 1982 to put down an Islamist revolt. Hama has once again been the center of protest during the current unrest; President Bashar al-Assad's security forces launched an offensive to reestablish control of the city on the eve of Ramadan this year.

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A man harvests cotton along the banks of the Euphrates River, between the eastern towns of Raqqa and Deir al-Zour. Raqqa, in north central Syria, rose to prominence during the first century due to its location at the crossroads between Syria and Iraq, but was in decline by the 9th century due to continuous warfare. 

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A long view of the Euphrates River. Beginnning in the mountains of Turkey, the Euphrates was vital to the ancient world (it was even mentioned as one of the rivers marking the boundary of the Garden of Eden). 

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A group of men smoke water pipes in Damascus's Café al-Nofara. 

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A group of children pose in front of storefront in Damascus.

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Krak des Chevaliers, a stronghold of the Crusaders in the 12th century, is one of the most iconic and best-preserved medieval castles in the world today. In peaceful times, it still attracts tourists from across the world.

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A streetlamp lights an alleyway in the northern city of Aleppo, the largest city in Syria. One of Syria's primary economic hubs, Aleppo has largely remained aloof from the unrest wracking other parts of the country.

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The ocean view from Badrusiye, in northwest Syria. The beaches of the region are popular tourist destinations  for vactioning residents of Aleppo. 

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Dusk settles over the stone buildings of Jaradeh, in northern Syria. Jaradeh is one of the "Dead Cities," which were largely abandoned after flourishing during the Byzantine Empire.  

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The medieval castle in the western city of Misyaf, in the Hama Governate. In the 12th century, the castle was held by military leaders belonging to the Ismailis, a Shia sect.

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The abandoned hospital in the southern city of Quneitra, on the Golan Heights. Syria lost the city during the 1967 war, when Israel captured the Golan, and was destroyed in the subsequent struggle for dominance in the region. Syria regained Quneitra in 1974 as part of a disengagement agreement, but left the city in ruins in what the New York Times referred to as "a museum of Israeli brutality."

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The entrance to the ancient Roman theatre in the city of Bosra in the southern governate of Daraa, which was the site of the first mass demonstrations against the Assad regime this year. The city is home to an extraordinarily well-preserved 2nd-century Roman theater.

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