12 Interesting Facts about the Syrian Desert

Vast parts of the Middle East consist of desert and semi-desert areas. Some of the most amazing deserts in the world can be found here, including one that covers over half the land area of 2 different countries.

In this article, you’ll discover some of the most interesting facts about the Syrian Desert, an immense desolate landscape that has some remarkable features.

1. It’s located within the borders of 4 different countries

The Syrian Desert was named after one country it’s located in. Apart from Syria, the desert also covers vast areas in Iraq (in the east), Jordan (in the southwest), and Saudi Arabia (in the south).

The landscape inside the desert is the epitome of desolation. It mostly consists of desert pavement and features several valleys. These are locally known as “wadis” and cut through the desert landscape.

The central part of the desert consists of a plateau referred to as the “Hamad Plateau.” It reaches an elevation of anywhere between 700 and 900 meters (2,300 and 3,000 feet) on average.

Syrian Desert facts
The landscape of the desert / Yeowatzup / Wiki Commons

2. The desert is bounded by several other famous feats of nature

The Syrian Desert is bounded by several other remarkable feats of nature in the Middle East. These include:

  • The Orontes Valley – Valley to the west carved by the 571-kilometer (355 miles) long Orontes River.
  • Harrat al-Shamah – A rocky desert in the northern part of the Arabian peninsula consisting of volcanic fields.
  • The Euphrates River – The historically important river from which the civilization in Mesopotamia emerged.

In the south, the desert merges into the other famous desert in the area, the Arabian Desert. This enormous desert covers nearly the entire Arabian Peninsula.

Syrian Desert interesting facts
Rocks inside the desert / Yeowatzup / Wiki Commons

3. It’s one of the top 10 biggest deserts in the world

One of the most remarkable facts about the Syrian Desert is that it covers 85% of the land area of Jordan and only 55% of Syria.

The entire desert covers an area of approximately 500,000 square kilometers (200,000 square miles), an enormous area that makes it the 9th-biggest desert in the world if we include the Antarctic and Arctic Deserts.

Despite covering such a large area, it’s still dwarfed by some of the biggest deserts nearby such as the Arabian Desert (2,330,000 square kilometers / 900,000 square miles) to the south and the Sahara Desert (9,200,000 square kilometers / 3,600,000 square miles) to the west.

Syrian Desert location
The location of the desert / LLs / Wiki Commons

4. The desert was once home to a thriving ancient city

Historically, the desert has been inhabited by Bedouin tribes, nomadic people who lived in the desert area of the Arabian peninsula. Some tribes still inhabitant parts of the desert today.

One of the most important ancient cities in the eastern part of the Roman Empire was located in the Syrian Desert. Palmyra was first mentioned in the 2nd century B.C. and gradually grew in importance as an important trading center.

The city became rich because of taxes collected from traders who traveled to the east along the silk road. The city was an important stop between the Mediterranean and the far east.

The Palmyrenes were avid traders and set up multiple trading stations along the silk road. The city reached its peak in the 260s A.D., a period in history when it was a Roman colony on the eastern outskirts of the Empire.

Palmyra Syrian Desert
The ruins of Palmyra in 2010 / Bernard Gagnon / Wiki Commons

5. It’s the native habitat of a popular golden pet

Very few animals can survive in the harsh conditions of the desert. There’s little rainfall and the few plants that still thrive here today are gradually being replaced by grasses due to drought and over-grazing.

The low nutritional value of the grasses has resulted in previously common animals such as gazelles and hartebeests being extinct in the region. Without prey to hunt, predators such as wolves, jackals, and foxes have disappeared too.

One of the most popular animals that are native to the arid region of southern Turkey and northern Syria is a popular pet. The Golden hamster or “Syrian hamster” (Mesocricetus auratus) is a small rodent that can be kept as a small pet inside the house.

Unfortunately, these animals are listed as “Vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List due to habitat loss in their native habitat.

Golden Hamster Syrian Desert
Golden hamster / Wiki Commons

More interesting facts about the Syrian Desert

6. The central plateau of the desert is an extremely arid region that receives little to no rain. The landscape on this plateau is as desolate as it gets with a relatively flat surface consisting of limestone bedrock covered with chert gravel (fine-grained stones).

7. The Hamad Plateau features two distinctive peaks. The Khawr um Wual is located in Saudi Arabia and reaches an elevation of above 1,000 meters (3,300 feet) above sea level). The Jebel Aneiza reaches a height of 960 meters (3,150 feet) and marks the spot where the borders of Iraq, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia meet.

SYrian desert fun facts
A view of the desert / Yeowatzup / Wiki Commons

8. Despite being referred to as the Syrian Desert, several areas in the region are sometimes classified as different deserts. These include the Palmyrene desert in the area of Palmyra and the Holms Desert in the region around Holms.

9. The eastern part of the desert is a section located in the western part of Iraq. This region is therefore sometimes referred to by Iraqis as the “Western Desert.”

10. The desert receives very little rain and when it does rain, it flows into salt pans. These occasionally turn into lakes that are visited by seasonal animals such as storks, herons, cranes, small waders, and various species of waterfowl.

11. The Bedouin tribes that live in the desert have constructed small settlements near the few oases that can be found inside the desert. Several remains of Safaitic scripture produced by these tribes have been found in the desert.

Safaitic inscription from Jordan
Safaitic inscription from Jordan / Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin / Wiki Commons

This was a proto-Arabic language that is part of the Ancient North Arabian group of the South Semitic script family that was used between the 1st century B.C. and the 4the century A.D.

12. Palmyra wasn’t the only important ancient settlement inside the Syrian Desert. Another important one was located near the Euphrates River in the eastern part of the desert and is referred to as Dura-Europos.

The original name of this settlement was “Dura” which means “Fortress.” The Greeks later referred to it as “Europos.” It was built on a cliff above 90 meters (300 feet) above the nearby river and once served as an important border city of the Roman Empire.

Dura Europos Remains
The remains of Dura-Europos / Alen Ištoković / Wiki Commons