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December 7th, 2010 | Asia

The Ruins of Palmyra…

Palmyra was known as the Bride of the Desert in ancient times, as it lay midway between the Mediterranean Sea and the Euphrates River, and acted as a vital link in the chain that served the caravan routes on their way to the Arabian Sea… These routes linked Persia, India and China, to the Roman Empire…

To the north and south of the oasis is nothing but sand and stone… A natural spring, known as the Afqa, rises up out of the desert and gave birth to this place, known for thousands of years as Tadmor by the Arabs…

The Arch of Triumph serves as the entrance to the long colonnade that runs down the length of the complex...

I walked up to the ruins as early in the morning as I could, hoping to be there before hordes of tourists arrived… There is no entrance fee to the site, and stretching over more than six square kilometres, it is not difficult to see why that it… It would cost a fortune to have it fenced or walled off in order to control access…

View from about halfway down the main "street"...

At 7.00am, it was bloody cold...!!

I would have liked to see the woodpecker who made this hole...!!

It was bitterly cold, and some of the video footage I shot was ruined by the shaking of my arms…!!

The temperature was around 5º Celsius, and the light cloud cover kept the sun from warming me up for the first hour I spent trudging through the ruins…

I walked through the Arch of Triumph, and all the way down to the Tetrapylons midway down what is known as “Straight Street”…

From there another long section of columns leads to a smaller temple where funeral services were held.

The Tetrapylons form the centre-piece of the colonnade... Still standing after all these years...

As the sun came up, so did a group of Bedouin and their camels, who earn a living giving tourists a ride through the ancient city…

Camel jockeys wander through the ruins, offering an alternative to walking through them...!! After my last experience in Sudan, I had vowed never to clamber aboard one of these beasts again, and was not about to change my mind now...!!

You also have to the dodge the modern Bedouin on their motorized camels...

There was a temple here almost 200o years before the Romans ever set eyes of Palmyra, and it is said that King Solomon built the Temple… The first record of human settlement dates back to the 19th Century B.C., but the city of Tadmor, or Palmyra as it was later known, only came to prominence after the Romans discovered its usefulness…

Archways and columns against the grey morning sky...

For four hundred years it enjoyed uninterrupted prosperity, due to it being the crossroads for trade between the east and west…

Roman Emperors visited here, including Hadrian, Aurelian and Justinian…

These four are the only granite columns forming part of the ruins, and were brought all the way fro Egypt... Palmyra has also been called the City of a Thousand Columns...!!

Later, when Aleppo and then Damascus took over as more important centres for commerce, the decline of Palmyra began… By the 16th Century the city was all but abandoned, and left to the Bedouin, the wandering tribes of the desert…

Near the far end of the complex, I came across this little Bedouin encampment... Not exactly the romanticized version I had been expecting...!!

Archeologists are still at work here, excavating new sites. Recently, they discovered yet another temple, said to be over 1200 years old, and the largest ever found in Syria…!! In May 2005, a Polish team excavating at the Lat temple discovered a highly-detailed stone statue of the winged goddess of victory, Nike…

Looking out over the site from the entrance to the Temple of Ba'al... It's a grand sight, is it not...??

The desert continues to give up its secrets, little bits at a time…

By mid morning the sun was shining brightly and I found myself back where I had started hours before…

The biggest chair in all of Syria... And a few other countries for that matter...!!

Entry to the temple of Bel, or Ba'al as it is known in Arabic...

The temple entrance itself is through these massive columns...

Across the main road stood the massive Temple of Bel, or Ba’al, a Babylonian god equivalent to Zeus… The Sun and the Moon were also worshipped from here…

A huge wall, 15 metres high, was built around the central Temple, where sacrifices to the gods were made…

The Temple at one time was used as a garrison by Ottoman troops who controlled Syria from 700 A.D.

In 1929, Bedouin families who had lived within its walls for centuries, were “evicted” by the French Authorities, who controlled Syria up until the beginning of the Second World War…

Most of the wall has crumbled and fallen, and has been reconstructed in recent times…

The back of the temple itself, which stands in the centre of the courtyard...

The remains of a separate section of the temple... The clouds had vanished, making way for a brilliant blue sky...

The Temple of Belshemen stands against the desert backdrop...

The youngest postcard seller in Syria...!! The Bedouin start them young...!!

My growling stomach reminded me that I had not eaten yet and having been on the move for almost three hours, I had built up quite an appetite…

I headed back to town, stopping to chat to a group of guys selling dates, and watching as they pitted them, and shoved almonds or pistachio nuts back into the centre of the date…

I sampled a few, (just to take the edge off my hunger…!!) but refused to buy a whole box of the fruit, as I had heard that many of them came with a little “protein bullet”, in the form of a worm…!!

Date sellers abound...!! Clumps of them hnag from almost every little shop in the village...

My Palmyra H.Q., the Citadel Hotel...

Wherever I went I was greeted by the locals and welcomed to Syria, offered tea, and requested to sit and chat with whichever group I stumbled upon…

I felt completely at ease in this little town in the middle of the desert, and although it was now nearing winter, by midday it was warm enough to make me forget about the cold night and early mornings here…

Backpackers from Holland , Japan and Australia drifted into town, transported by bus from Damascus or Homs…

They arrived in small groups, searched for a place to stay, and then headed for the ruins… A day later they would be gone again, and new groups would arrive…

From the porch of my hotel, which is located very close to the ruins, I was able to watch the comings and goings of these intrepid travelers, who almost always seemed to gravitate towards me to ask for directions or advice, and of course, to ogle the Big Fella, who took pride of place among the tables of the restaurant…!!

Management have taken note of this, and the many folk I have sent their way, and now ply me with a constant flow of tea…!!

The supermarket and internet are only metres away from the front door of the hotel... Trouble is, they've never heard of Snickers in this part of the world...!!

Alternative transport arrangements can be made for those afraid of camels...!!

This seems to be another place where you can lose all track of space and time…!!

©GBWT 2010

2 comments to The Ruins of Palmyra…

  • Mark Behr

    Your early start would be the only meaningful way to explore this place and its majesty. Nice!

    There is no way I would eat something that they had pitted and re-stuffed – wise choice man. Enjoy !

  • Lucia

    Awesome-awesome photograph of the Arch of Triumph! Looks like you sat there and painted it instead of snapping away with ole trusty! Luv it!

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