22 May 2015

Palmyra 2008

In the news today, word of the apparent fall of the ruins of ancient Palmyra to ISIS forces was another reminder of the potentially devastating consequences for global heritage of the intractable civil strife that has ravaged Syria. Palmyra lies within Syria's borders now, but its origins lie in distant antiquity as a Neolithic settlement and later in the second millennium BC as a caravan stop for desert traders. Under later Roman control in the third century AD it became the home of the fearsome Queen Zenobia, whose rebellion against Rome was ultimately crushed and the city punished cruelly. Until the civil war, Palmyra was one of the highlights of any journey to Syria. Now its future is wholly uncertain.

I visited Palmyra with my friends Jennifer and Andrew in 2008, during our expedition to Syria and Jordan (relevant blogs: part 1part 2 and part 3). We were driven by Abdul, a friendly local man, in his ancient burgundy-coloured Mercedes sedan in a daytrip from the middle Syrian town of Hama. En route on the 200 kilometre seatbelt-less eastward journey we paused to admire Bedouin beehive dwellings and pondered the geographical implications of a highway road sign that proclaimed a turnoff for the Iraqi border that lurked less than 100 kilometres further east. The journey was hugely important, allowing us to spend two and a half hours exploring the superb temple complex and the remains of a lavish colonnaded commercial avenue in the heart and heat of the desert, with the landscape peppered with the rubble of long-gone architecture and sprinkled with the odd camel decked out for tourist rides. Here's a few photographic mementos of that visit on 1 November 2008.

Bedouin dwellingts, eastern Syrian desert

Palmyra

Temple of Bel, Palmyra

Temple of Bel roof carving

Gates to the grand commercial avenue

Camel tout

Gates to the grand commercial avenue

Temple at the far end of the avenue

Camel & Ottoman fort

Palmyra from the Ottoman fort

 

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