Archaeologists have discovered extensive writings, which suggest a culture existed in ancient Syria rivalling those of Mesopotamia and Egypt. It is said that Syrian scholars and artists contributed to Hellenistic and Roman thought and culture and hence played an important part in the development of Western culture. Following independence from the French mandate in 1946, Syria entered a period of instability. In 1970, however, power was consolidated into the hands of Hafez al-Assad until his death in 2000 when his son Bashar al-Assad took over. Recently the country has been rocked by protests against the government which started on the 26th of January 2011, which are still no closer to reaching a conclusion.
Popular contemporary writing has been influenced by the Arabic literatures of other countries as well as French literature and by the country's dramatic political history. Writers such as Haidar Haidar, Adonis, Muhammad Maghout and Zakariyya Tamer are the preeminent literary icons of Syria.
Syria’s capital city, Damascus, has long been one of the Arab world's centres for classical Arabian music, and indeed most of Syria’s music comes from this city. As this region was one of the earliest centres of Christianity, the Syrian style of chants and hymns is among the oldest in the world. Syria has also produced several pan-Arab stars such as George Wasoof and Nur Mahana.
Traditional dances such as the al-Samah, the Dabkeh and the sword dance take place at all festivities and accompanied by traditional folk music. The ‘muwashshah’ is a form of sung poetry popularised by stars like Sabri Moudallal and Sabah Fakhri.
Syrian cinema has existed since the early 20th century. The 1928 release The Innocent Suspect was the first Syrian film. In the 60’s the film industry boomed, but shifted mainly towards nationalistic documentaries. Today, prominent filmmakers include Nazih Shabandar and Rasheed Jalal.