Damascus was chosen as the 2008 Arab Capital of Culture. The preparation for the festivity began in February 2007 with the establishing of the Administrative Committee for "Damascus Arab Capital of Culture" by a presidential decree.
Damascus was built in a strategic site on a plateau 680 m (2,230 ft) above sea level and about 80 km (50 mi) inland from the Mediterranean, sheltered by the Anti-Lebanon mountains, supplied with water by the Barada River, and at a crossroads between trade routes: the north-south route connecting Egypt with Asia Minor, and the east-west cross-desert route connecting Lebanon with the Euphrates river valley. The Anti-Lebanon mountains mark the border between Syria and Lebanon. The range has peaks of over 10,000 ft. and blocks precipitation from the Mediterranean sea, so that the region of Damascus is sometimes subject to droughts. However, in ancient times this was mitigated by the Barada River, which originates from mountain streams fed by melting snow. Damascus is surrounded by the Ghouta, irrigated farmland where many vegetables, cereals and fruits have been farmed since ancient times. Maps of Roman Syria indicate that the Barada river emptied into a lake of some size east of Damascus. Today it is called Bahira Atayba, the hesitant lake, because in years of severe drought it does not even exist.
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