Syria, with a total area of 185 180 km2, is bordered in the north by Turkey, in the east and southeast by Iraq, in the south by Jordan, in the south-west by Israel and in the west by Lebanon and the Mediterranean sea. Administratively, the country is divided into 14 governorates, one of which being the capital Damascus. Throughout its history, Syria's political and economic importance has been largely attributable to its position at the crossroads of three continents and several cultures. Because of its strategic geographic location, Syria continues to be a focus of transit trade among many countries of the Middle East and to be a vital factor in Arab politics and in Arab-Israeli hostilities. The climate is predominantly dry; about three-fifths of the country has less than 25 centimeters of rain a year. Fertile land is the nation's most important natural resource, and efforts have been made, and in the 1980s were continuing, to increase the amount of arable land through irrigation projects.

Modified from: FAO Abdalla Masri and Wikipedia

Physical geography

The area includes about 185,180 square kilometers of deserts, plains, and mountains. The country can be divided into 4 physiographic regions:

1) The coastal plain. Along the Mediterranean, a narrow coastal plain stretches south from the Turkish border to Lebanon. The flatness of this littoral, covered with sand dunes, is broken only by lateral promontories running down from the mountains to the sea. Syria claims a territorial limit of 35 nautical miles (65 km) off its Mediterranean coastline.

2) The mountains and the highlands. This zone is extending from north to south parallel to the Mediterranean coast, the Jabal an Nusayriyah mountains, a range paralleling the coastal plain, has an average elevation of just over 1,212 meters; the highest peak, Nabi Yunis, is about 1,575 meters. The western slopes catch moisture-laden western sea winds and are thus more fertile and more heavily populated than the eastern slopes, which receive only hot, dry winds blowing across the desert. Before reaching the Lebanese border and the Anti-Lebanon Mountains, the Jabal an Nusayriyah range terminates, leaving a corridor –theHoms Gap– through which run the highway and railroad from Homs to the Lebanese port of Tripoli. For centuries the Homs Gap has been a favorite trade and invasion route from the coast to the country's interior and to other parts of Asia. Eastward, the line of the Jabal an Nusayriyah is separated from the Jabal az Zawiyah range and the plateau region by the Al Ghab depression, a fertile, irrigated trench crossed by the meandering Orontes River.Inland and farther south, the Anti-Lebanon Mountains rise to peaks of over 2,700 meters on the Syrian-Lebanese frontier and spread in spurs eastward toward the plateau region. The eastern slopes have little rainfall and vegetation and merge eventually with the desert. In the southwest, the lofty Mount Hermon (Jabal ash Shaykh), also on the border between Syria and Lebanon, descends to the Hawran Plateau–frequently referred to as the Hawran–that receives rain-bearing winds from the Mediterranean. All but the lowest slopes of Mount Hermon are uninhabited, however. Volcanic cones, some of which reach over 900 meters, intersperse the open, rolling, once-fertile Hawran Plateau south of Damascus and east of the Anti-Lebanon Mountains. Southwest of the Hawran lies the high volcanic region of the Jabal Druze range (renamed Jabal al Arab), home of the country's Druze population.

3) The eastern plateau.This zone includes the plains located east of the highlands and including the plains of Damascus, Homs, Hama, Aleppo, Al-Hassakeh and Dara'a. The entire eastern plateau region is intersected by a low chain of mountains, the Jabal ar Ruwaq, the Jabal Abu Rujmayn, and the Jabal Bishri, extending northeastward from the Jabal Al Arab to the Euphrates River. South of these mountains lies a barren desert region known as the Hamad. North of the Jabal ar Ruwaq and east of the city of Homs is another barren area known as the Homs Desert, which has a hard-packed dirt surface. Northeast of the Euphrates River, which originates in the mountains of Turkey and flows diagonally across Syria into Iraq, is the fertile Djazirah region that is watered by the tributaries of the Euphrates. The area underwent irrigation improvements during the 1960s and 1970s, and it provides substantial cereal and cotton crops. Oil and natural gas discoveries in the extreme northeastern portion of the Jazirah have significantly enhanced the region's economic potential.

4) The Badiah and desert plains . The Badiah and the desert plains in the south-eastern part of the country are bordering Jordan and Iraq.

The Rivers. There are 16 main rivers and tributaries in the country, of which 6 main international rivers:

- The Euphrates (Al Furat), which is Syria's the largest river. It comes from Turkey and flows to Iraq. Its total length is 2 330 km, of which 680 km are in Syria;

- The Afrin, in the north-western part of the country, which comes from Turkey, crosses Syria and flows back to Turkey;

- The Orontes (El-Ass), in the western part of the country, which comes from Lebanon and flows into Turkey;

- The Yarmouk, in the south-western part of the country with sources in Syria and Jordan and which forms the border between these two countries before flowing into the Jordan river;

- The El-Kebir, with sources in Syria and Lebanon and which forms the border between them before flowing to the sea;

- The Tigris, which forms the border between Syria and Turkey in the extreme north-eastern part.


Syria's climate is Mediterranean with continental influence:. The climate in general is a modified Mediterranean type: the modification is mainly due to a change in micro- habitat as a result of man’s misuse of natural resources. Large parts of Syria are exposed to high variability in daily temperature. The maximum difference in daily temperature can be as high as 32 ºC in the interior and about 13 ºC in the coastal region. Total annual precipitation ranges from 100 to 150 mm in the north-west, 150 to 200 mm from the south towards the central and east-central areas, 300 to 600 mm in the plains and along the foothills in the west, and 800 to 1 000 mm along the coast, increasing to 1 400 mm in the mountains. The Average annual rainfall in the country is 252 mm giving 46.6 km3.There are four seasons: cool rainy winters with occasional snow and warm dry summers, with relatively short spring and autumn seasons. The most striking feature of the climate is the contrast of sea and desert. Between the humid Mediterranean coast and the arid desert regions lies a semiarid steppe zone extending across three-fourths of the country and bordered on the west by the Anti-Lebanon Mountains and the Jabal an Nusayriyah, on the north by the Turkish mountain region, and on the southeast by the Jabal al Arab, Jabal ar Ruwaq, Jabal Abu Rujmayn, and the Jabal Bishri ranges.

Bioclimatic zones

1) Mediterranean. The regions near the sea are characterized by a mild Mediterranean climate while the interior parts are rather continental with cold winters and a spell of below zero degrees C and hot summers with a spell above 40 degrees C. Rainfall in this area is fairly abundant, annual precipitation ranging between 75 and 100 centimeters. Most of the rain, carried by winds from the Mediterranean, falls between November and May. The annual mean temperatures range from 7.2 ºC in January to 26.6 ºC in August. Typical Mediterranean plants are found in the sandy, narrow warm coastal area with high precipitation of over 700 mm/year. The natural vegetation cover is typically: Ceratonia siliqua, Hyparrhenia hirta, Avena pratensis, Festuca laevis, Lathyrus cassius, Poterium spinosa, Nerium oleander, Myrtus communis, Quercus aegilops, Quercus calliprinos, Quercus infectoria.

2) Mountain range. Because the high ridges of the Jabal an Nusayriyah catch most of the rains from the Mediterranean, the Al Ghab depression, located east of these mountains, is in a relatively arid zone with warm, dry winds and scanty rainfall. Frost is unknown in any season, although the peaks of the Jabal an Nusayriyah are sometimes snow covered. This area is used mainly for grazing. The vegetation cover consists of the following: Pistacia atlantica, Rhamnus palaestina, Stipa barbata, Poa sinaica, Salsola vermiculata

3) Steppe plains. North of the desert ranges and east of the Al Ghab depression lie the vast steppes of the plateau, where cloudless skies and high daytime temperatures prevail during the summer, but frosts, at times severe, are common from November to March. Precipitation averages 25 centimeters a year but falls below 20 centimeters in a large belt along the southern desert area. In this belt, only the Euphrates and Khabur rivers provide sufficient water for settlement and cultivation. Farther south, rain-bearing clouds from the Mediterranean pass through the gap between the Jabal an Nusayriyah and the Anti-Lebanon Mountains, reaching the area of Homs and, sometimes, the steppe region east of that city. Still farther to the south, however, the Anti-Lebanon Mountains bar the rains from the Mediterranean, and the area, including the capital city of Damascus, becomes part of the semiarid climatic zone of the steppe, with precipitation averaging less than 20 centimeters a year and with temperatures from 4.4 ºC in January to 37.7 ºC in July and August. The vicinity of the capital is, nevertheless, verdant and cultivable because of irrigation from the Barada River by aqueducts built during Roman times. In the northern and western parts, where annual precipitation exceeds 350 mm, the major natural species are: Agropyron libanoticum, Secale montanum, Hordeum bulbosum, Dactylis hispanica, Bromus danthoniae, Bromus tomentellus, Hedysarum coelosyriacum, Thymus syriacus, Carthamnus spp., Salvia syriaca, Salvia palaestina, Cousinia spp., Alkanna spp., Centaurea dumulosa, Triticum aegilopoides. There are also many legumes like Trifolium, Medicago, Vicia, Trigonella etc. The zone is mainly under cereal and pulse crops. In the eastern and southern parts where annual rainfall is between 350 to 200 mm, the major species are: Stipa lagascae, Stipa barbata, Poa sinaica, Centaurea damascene, Lactuca orientalis, Phlomis damascene, Asphodelus microcarpus.

4) Semi – desert sand desert. Here annual rain is less than 200 mm. The major species are: Anabasis syriaca, Haloxylon articulatum, Haloxylon salicornicum, Noaea mucronata, Artemisia herba-alba, Achillea fragrantisima, Salsola vermiculata, Poa sinaica.

5) Oases. These are depressions where underground water is available. Irrigated crops are the basis of farming. Parts of the oases have saline water where halophytic vegetation survives. Common species are: Tamarix spp., Frankenia spp., Halocnemum strobillosum, Salicornia herbacea, Salsola crassa, Statice palmyrensis, Aeluropus littoralis, Juncus maritimus, Alhagi maurorum.

Agro-ecological zones
Syria is divided into five agro-ecological zones according to annual precipitation:

Zone 1, with annual rainfall over 350 mm is divided into two areas: a) Those with annual rainfall over 600 mm. where rainfed crops can be successfully planted. b) Those with annual rainfall between 350- 600 mm and not less than 300 mm during two thirds of the relevant years i.e. it is possible to get two seasons every three years and the main crops are: wheat, legumes and summer crops. The area of this zone is 2,701,000 hectares and forms 14.6 percent of the country´s area.

Zone 2, has an annual rainfall between 250-350 mm and not less than 300 mm during two thirds of the relevant years i.e. it is possible to get two barley seasons every three years and in addition could be planted with wheat, pulses and summer crops. The area of this zone is 2,470,000 hectares and it forms 13.3 percent of the country´s area. The major crops are wheat and barley.

Zone 3, has an annual rainfall of 250 mm with not less than this amount during half of the relevant years i.e. it is possible to get one to two seasons every three years and the main crops is barley, although legumes could be planted. The area of this zone is 1,306,000 hectares and it forms 7.1 percent of the country´s area.

Zone 4, has an annual rainfall of between 200-250 mm with not less than 200 mm during half of the relevant years i.e. it is good just for barley which in some years is grazed as the yield is too low to harvest. Fallow is practiced in case of capital shortage. The area of this zone is 1,833,000 hectares and forms 9.9 percent of the country´s area.

Zone 5, (Desert and steppe) this area covers the rest of the country´s land. It is not suitable for rainfed planting. The area of this zone is (10,208,000) hectares which forms 55.1 percent of the country area. It is natural grazing for sheep and camels.

The irrigated areas, the irrigated areas totaling 1,185,679 hectares are spread all over the country where surface and ground water is available. They are mainly cropped with cotton, beet and wheat, but near the cities they are planted with vegetables, fruit and lucerne as forage for dairy cows.