Friday, August 21, 2009

Day 75, Palmyra, Syria

We are now going to the middle of the Syrian Desert.....our next stop in Syria is Palmyra, one of the world's most splendid historical sites.

This Arab commercial metropolis, which has now turned pink with age, used to be on the old Silk Road.
The ruins, dating largely to the 2nd century AD, cover some 50 hectares and have been extensively excavated and restored.

Called Tadmor by the Arabs, Palmyra appeared
for the first time in the 2nd millennium BC in the archives of Mari and in an Assyrian text. It was also mentioned in the Bible as a part of Solomon's territory.
Palmyra's intriguing history, along with the profusion of colonnades, temple remains and funerary towers, in a mesmerising desert oasis setting has simply rendered us speechless!

The Seleucids practically ignored Tadmor and it became independent. It flourished through trade with Persia, the Indian sub
continent and the Arabian Peninsula. In 41 BC it had become rich enough to attract the Romans and Anthony attempted to occupy it but failed because of the Palmyreans escaping to the other side of the Euphrates.

It was fully occupied by the Romans under Tiberius, Augustus' successor and was integrated into the Province of Syria between 14-37 AD. During the next 100 years of Roman rule Palmyra prospered greatly as a trade route linking the East Asian empires of Persia, India, China, and the Parthians who were Rome's enemy for a long time.

They managed this by keeping good ties with both the Romans and the Parthians. In 129 AD Hadrian visited Palmyra and was quite enthralled by it and named it Palmyra Hadriana and proclaimed it a free city. In 212 AD Palmyra was considered as a colony of the Roman Empire and Palmyra took a higher military role and caravan trade diminished. Trade diminished even more when the Sassanians took over and occupied the mouth to the Tigris and Euphrates.

The leader Septimus Odeinat (Odenathus) became qu
ite favored by Rome and in 256/7 was appointed by the Emperor Valerian as Consul and Governor of the province of Syria Phoenice which Palmyra had been transferred to in 194. A few years later Valerian was captured and murdered by the Sassanian Persians, and in redemption Odeinat campaigned as far as the Sassanian capital Ctesiphon.

Palmyra's greatest days however were after the murder of Odeinat, when his wife Zenobia started ruling Palmyra on behalf of her son Vaballath. Zenobia with the help of her Prime Minister Longinus extended Palmyrean power to the west and took over Bosra and occupied as far as Egypt (269-270), then she headed for the north and attempted to take Antioch.
This sudden expansion posed a threat for the Romans, and after two years in 272 of being flexible Aurelian retaliated and took back Antioch then Emesa (Homs) and then Palmyra itself. Zenobia tried to escape but was
captured and was taken back to Rome as a prisoner.

After this Rome kept a close eye on Palmyra and it was forced to become a military area and let go of its reputation as a trade center. It was expanded under emperor Diocletian to harbor Roman legions and it was walled in defense from the Sassanian threat.

Later in the Byzantine period a few churches were built and added to the much ruined city. It was then taken by the Arabs under Khalid Ibn Al Walid who was leader of the Arab army under the Caliph Abu Bakr. It played a minor defensive role during the Islamic periods although the Umayyads built the two Qasr Al Heirs.
Later Temple of Bel was fortified and the Arab Castle of Fakhredin Al Maany was built. Since then it has had no major roles and the ruins have fallen victim to natural erosion

It wasn't until 1678 that Palmyra was 'rediscovered' by two English merchants resident in Aleppo. Few followed in their footsteps; the buried desert city was an often-dangerous five days' journey from civilisation.
It took a 1751 expedition, which resulted in drawings and the first tentative excavations, to truly pique travellers' interest. Throughout the rest of the 18th and 19th centuries a steady flow of intrepid visitors made the expedition out from Aleppo or Damascus, although it wasn't until the early 20th century that the first scientific study began.
Simply stunning!

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