02/27/2013 07:37 am ET Updated Feb 27, 2013

Syria In 1940: Photos Document Life In Damascus, Aleppo More Than 70 Years Ago

It is hard to imagine a Syria without bombed cities, deserted streets, downed helicopters, or RPGs. Yet these incredible photos published by LIFE magazine in the 1940s show just that.

More than 70 years ago, photographer Margaret Bourke-White traveled to Syria for LIFE. As global tensions reached a peak during the early years of World War II, White discovered Syria's narrow streets and its bustling cities, its ancient citadels and desolate temples.

From LIFE's May 20, 1940, issue:

Should Hitler strike east or Mussolini jump into the war or Soviet Russia pile on, the world spotlight would instantly narrow on far forgotten Syria. Here is now massed a formidable French army under the old warhorse Maxime Weygand, ready to rush either to the defense of Egypt or of Turkey and the Balkans. Here is a sample of the brains, the men and the material of France and its colonies. Here flies the flag of France … raised at sunrise to the bugle call Au Drapeau at Aleppo.

Take a look at the full set of incredible photos or read Margaret Bourke-White's fascinating story from 1940 at TIME-LIFE.

Syria Circa 1940