The commercial and administrative centre of the new city gradually shifted northwards slightly towards this area.

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. 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.

The Anti-Lebanon mountains mark the border between Syria and Lebanon. 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.

The courts of justice, post office and railway station stood on higher ground slightly to the south.

A Europeanised residential quarter soon began to be built on the road leading between al-Marjeh and al-Salihiyah.It has also become polluted due to the city's traffic, industry, and sewage. Annual rainfall is around 130 mm (5 in), occurring from October to May.Some of the earliest Egyptian records are from the 1350 BC Amarna letters, when Damascus (called Dimasqu) was ruled by king Biryawaza.Poorer areas, often built without official approval, have mostly developed south of the main city.Damascus used to be surrounded by an oasis, the Ghouta region (الغوطة al-ġūṭä), watered by the Barada river.Later Aramaic spellings of the name often include an intrusive resh (letter r), perhaps influenced by the root dr, meaning "dwelling".