Syria is home to one of the oldest civilizations in the world, with a rich artistic and cultural heritage. From its ancient roots to its recent political instability and the Syrian Civil War, the country has a complex and, at times, tumultuous history.

It has been 10 years since the war in Syria began. Hundreds of thousands of people have died over the past decade and tens of thousands have disappeared, their fates unknown. Russia and Iran, the US and its allies, and Turkey each back different competing groups - all of which have fought long, bitter battles to acquire the territory they hold.  The war that has engulfed Syria shows no sign of ending for good.

Although there is a shaky ceasefire in place, the country remains what a UN monitor calls a "tinderbox" - with five foreign militaries poised and ready to engage in active operations.

This is the story of one of the most violent and bloody conflicts of the 21st century.

The war in Syria has claimed more than 130,000 lives and, as these images reveal, it is also laying waste to its historic buildings and Unesco-listed sites. As the Arab Spring brought protesters into streets across the Middle East and North Africa in early 2011, some of Syria's 22 million people decided to join in. Pro-democracy demonstrations began in the southwestern city of Deraa.

It wasn't crazy at the time to imagine that President Bashar al-Assad, in power since 2000, might step beyond the brutal legacy of his father, the dictator Hafez al-Assad, to open a period of reform that created new opportunities, particularly for his country's youth.