Damascus is the capital and likely the largest city of Syria, following the decline in population of Aleppo due to the battle for the city. It is commonly known in Syria as ash-Sham and nicknamed as the City of Jasmine. In addition to being one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, Damascus is a major cultural centre of the Levant and the Arab world. The city has an estimated population of 1,711,000 as of 2009.
Located in south-western Syria, Damascus is the centre of a large metropolitan area of 2.6 million people (2004). Geographically embedded on the eastern foothills of the Anti-Lebanon mountain range 80 kilometres (50 mi) inland from the eastern shore of the Mediterranean on a plateau 680 metres (2,230 ft) above sea level, Damascus experiences a semi-arid climate because of the rain shadow effect. The Barada River flows through Damascus.
First settled in the second millennium BC, it was chosen as the capital of the Umayyad Caliphate from 661 to 750. After the victory of the Abbasid dynasty, the seat of Islamic power was moved to Baghdad. Damascus saw a political decline throughout the Abbasid era, only to regain significant importance in the Ayyubid and Mamluk periods. Today, it is the seat of the central government and all of the government ministries.