History of Palmyra
Built on an oasis in the Syrian desert lies the ancient city of Palmyra. It was one of the most important cities of the ancient world. During the 1st and 2nd centuries it rivalled Rome in importance and influence. On the all important trade route, it linked East and West and linked the Roman Empire to Persia, India and China, making it a very wealthy city.
It”s name means ‘city of palm trees’. It was also known as the ‘pearl of the desert’. Greek, Roman, Persian and Islamic cultures are all reflected in Palmyra.
See also my post on the crusader castle of Krak des Chevaliers https://www.daredreamdiscover.com/destinations/syria/krak-des-chevaliers-the-crusader-castle/
ISIS occupy Palmyra
For so many years I have wanted to visit Palmyra. When I heard that ISIS had taken it over, blown some of it up, beheaded all the statues and destroyed so much, I cried. It was 1st occupied by ISIS in 2015 before they were expelled by the Syrian army in March 2016. By December 2016 they were back in control before being ousted for good in March 2017, but not before they had destroyed many of the city’s most historic treasures.
The temple of Baal was blown up with explosives and the huge temple of Bel was also destroyed. It is so sad that something that took so long to build, was so beautiful and lasted over 1,000 years took just seconds to destroy.
The head of antiquities for the site was an 82 year old called Khalid – al – Asaad. He was interrogated and tortured for a month but refused to reveal where the most fabulous treasures were hidden. He was then publicly beheaded and his mutilated body hung from a column in the main square.
The Journey to Palmyra
To get to Palmyra it was a 2 hour drive from Homs. As usual there were armed checkpoints on the road, but more of them. We had to obtain special papers to be allowed to visit. At the main checkpoint we were wished ‘welcome to Syria’ by the general in charge. From here an armed soldier had to accompany us for the rest of the visit. I think he enjoyed this part of the job and asked for a selfie with myself and Katie. We turned off onto the road to Palmyra through desert.
We passed a Russian airfield and then a convoy of armoured vehicles, including a lorry mounted machine gun. The vehicles all had a big ‘Z’ painted on the front, it was unnerving. It is not possible to visit Palmyra castle. Perched on a hill overlooking the ancient city it is now being used as a Russian barracks.
The Present and the Future of Palmyra
I was in awe at the size of Palmyra, it much have been a spectacular sight in its heyday, it still is. It used to get 150.000 visitors now there was only us.
It was sad to see the destruction caused by ISIS, but the reconstruction process has begun. UNESCO, Italy, Poland and Russia have all offered help with the restoration process.
The Lion of Al – lat statue was broken into pieces, these pieces have been put back together and the statue restored. It can be seen in the Damascus museum.
More statues and artworks are being painstakingly restored. Work has been done on the amphitheatre.
Using 3D imaging Italian scientists were able to recreate part of the roof of the temple of Baal. A hotel is being restored and hopes to open to welcome guests in the summer. Hopefully some day soon Palmyra will be completely restored to its former glory and the visitors will return.
See also my post on Lebanon