The Palms and Peace of Palmyra

Trip Start Feb 01, 2005
Trip End Dec 31, 2020

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Flag of Syria  ,
Saturday, November 15, 2008

 We arrived in Palmyra, an ancient Assyrian Caravan town for over 1,000 years, on a Friday afternoon. 

Friday is holy day for the Islamic faith and means mostly everything is shut. This was quite pleasant as we could explore the town without any hassle - not that their is much hassle in Syria really. Lots of little children were out in the streets playing and parents and grandparents sat on their front steps enjoying a day off. We were like celebrities to the children and they called out greetings and ran along with us. Unlike most of the places we had visited in Syria so far the town of Palmyra is quite small which made a pleasant change.

Palmyra is a huge Oasis in the desert. Palm trees and greenery are a stark contrast to the desert surrounding the town.

After breakfast the next day on the 5th floor of hotel with glorious views to the ancient city,we set off to the first stop, the very unusual multi story burial towers. These were unlike anything we had ever seen before.  Coffins were stacked in pigeonhole, like niches, in towers. The niches were then sealed with stone panels carved with a head and shoulders portrait of the deceased. Amazing fresco's decorate the burial towers. 

What really tickled our fancy is that there is a notice above the door advertising to all that there were niches for sale if you would like to buy your burial chamber in advance or if you were caught out and not made your own arrangements, for instance a merchant dying while his camel train was in town.

Next we had a tour through the city ruins ending up at the impressive temple of Bel. Palmyra has an extensive history of occupation with Assyrian, Greek, Roman, Islamic and Turkish rules and each culture added to (and took away from!) Palmyra. The city is famous for Queen Zenobia who was half Greek, half Arab and a descendant of Cleopatra. She became ruler in 267AD when Palmyra was at its height and aggressively set out to conquer new territories including Rome. She added many opulent touches to Palmyra including commissioning a massive stone pillar to be sent from Aswan in Egypt. The mind boggles as to how it got there and how long it took! The armies of Queen Zenobia were beaten back by the Roman forces and as retribution they torched Palmyra and knocked Zenobia's head off her shoulders and off all her statues in Palmyra. The city then went into decline and fell to the Islamic armies in 634AD.

Of interest on our tour was a huge square for commerce where the camel traders from the Orient came to sell their wares and pay their taxes to the large custom house.  It even had a speaker's corner for people to air their opinions, preach or make speeches. You could just visualize a bygone era of camel drivers selling silks and spices.

Palmyra's next big problem was a major earthquake in 1089 AD. Massive pillars and huge blocks (with carvings and inscriptions) lie about all over the place, where the earthquake felled them.  

Absolutely loved our tour guide especially when he bent down and picked up a tiny artifact and gave it to me. He said it was probably a fragment of an ancient bracelet. 

Time to leave Palmyra and drive back to Damascus.

Footnote: Site of Palmyra is UNESCO World Heritage Listed.
POSTSCRIPT 2017:  Palmyra has been destroyed by ISIS. Ohhh the loss!  
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