The water body was located in the centre of Amuq Plain on the northernmost part of the Dead Sea Transform and historically covered an area of some 300-350 square kilometres, increasing during flood periods. It was surrounded by extensive marshland. The 14th century Arab geographer Abu al-Fida described the lake as having sweet water and being twenty miles (32 km) long and seven miles wide.
Sedimentary analysis has suggested that the lake was formed, in its final state, in the past 3000 years by episodic floods and silting up of the outlet to the Orontes. This dramatic increase in the lake's area had displaced many settlements during the classical period; the lake became an important source of fish and shellfish for the surrounding area and the city of Antioch.
There have increasingly been reports that the draining has caused severe environmental damage. Reclaimed and irrigated land has been affected by increasing soil salinity, and productivity has fallen. Despite the drainage works, many areas still regularly flood, requiring constant maintenance of drainage canals and further decreasing the productivity of the reclaimed farmland, while the water table has fallen dramatically. The fall in underground water levels has been implicated in causing an increasing amount of subsidence and serious damage to buildings.