Until World War I the name Syria generally referred to Greater or geographical Syria, which extends from the Taurus Mountains in the north to the Sinai in the south, and between the Mediterranean in the west and the desert in the east. The name was first given by the Greeks to the city of Tyrus (now Tyre)—Sur in Arabic—and then applied by them to the whole of the province.
The early Arabs referred to Greater Syria as Bilad al-Sham; in Arabic al-Sham means left or north. Bilad al-Sham is so called because it lies to the left of the holy Kaʿba in Mecca, and also because those who journey thither from the Hijaz bear to the left or north. Another explanation is that Syria has many beauty spots—fields and gardens—held to resemble the moles (shamat) on a beauty's face.
The term Syria, referring to greater or geographical Syria, began to be used again in the political and administrative literature of the nineteenth century. The Ottoman Empire then established a province of Syria, and more than one newspaper using the term Suriyya in its name was published at the time. In 1920, Greater Syria was partitioned by the Allies of World War I into present-day Syria, Greater Lebanon, Palestine, and Transjordan.
See also sinai peninsula; taurus mountains; tyre.