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Palmyra The Pearl of the Syrian Desert

PalmyraSyria has always been a center where East an West meet with their varied civilization. It is no wonder that Syria is the cradle of civilization, which flourished throughout history. Monuments, the most important archaeological sites, impregnable castles, citadels and dead cities narrate the glorious history of ancient nations. The basaltic and the limestone ruins tell about a marvelous architectural art. The Corinthian columns, the khans spread all over the Silk Road, the castles still towering from the Medieval ages, the mosques and palaces are the witnesses of a great rich history. To know Syria is to have knowledge of a legendary world. Palmyra, for example, is like a pearl in the heart of the desert, Palmyra, rising from the sands, is one of the most graceful and splendid ancient sites in the East, for the glory and the greatness are still evident and fully years after its construction by the Arab Queen Zenobia. It remains one of most famous capitals of the ancient world. Palmyra is separated by some one hundred kilometers of steppe from the lush valley of the Orontes, to the west. There are more than two hundred kilometers of desert to the cross before you reach the fertile banks of the Euphrates, to the east. To Both north and south there is nothing but sand and stone. But here at Palmyra a last fold of the Anti- Lebanon forms a kind of basin on the edge of which a spring rises out of a long underground channel whose depth has never been measured. This spring is called Afqa (or Ephka) in inscriptions, an Aramaic word meaning " way out'. Its clear blue, slightly sulphurous waters are said to have medicinal properties; they have fed an oasis here with olives and date- palms and cotton and cereals. For generation this oasis was known as Tadmor.


The temple is surrounded by a great blank wall, 200 meters on each side, the walls of the fortress that replaced its ancient propylaea during the 12th century. This bleak exterior gives no hint of the magnificence of the buildings internal layout. There is an immense courtyard surfaced with smooth rock, which rises gently towards a majestic edifice at its highest point; this is the cella, the holy of holies, towards which the faithful used to crowed, where the sacrificial mysteries were celebrated. The wall surrounding it lined with porticos whose columns are still standing for the most part, allows one to appreciate the vast proportions of the whole building, but at the same time emphasize the enclosed nature of this shrine to the chief god of the city. The layout of the temple corresponds to the arrangement of Semitic sanctuaries -Thus here there is, in front of the cella, the great sacrificial altar and a ritual basin in which the priests performed their ablutions and in which ritual vessels were washed. The cella was surrounded by a colonnade. Its capitals were made of bronze; only the stone cores remain. The limestone beams joining the colonnade to the wall behind show by their sculptures with what refinement and abundance the building was decorated. Their themes are floral, representations of the god and of processions. One particularly remarkable scene shows a camel carrying a statue of the god Bel passing in front of people dressed in the local costume, a cloth draped and tied around its middle, and followed by a group of veiled women, their heads bowed in reverence. The altar is shown loaded with gifts: pomegranates, pine cones, grapes and a kid. The two worshippers are in Parthian dress. The interior of the cella consists of two open chapels facing each other with ceilings made from single slabs of stone, and richly decorated; the one on the left (as you enter) with signs of the zodiac, the one on the right with very fine geometric designs. The Palmyrene trinity (Bel, Yarhibol, and Aglibul) is also depicted. The arrangement of these two chapels, like two opposed niches, is enough to show original this Palmyrene architecture is, typically Arab and Syrian. Other details noted by specialist have shown that, far from having been influenced by the Greeks and Romans, the civilization of Palmyra, earlier than that of Rome itself inspired both the architecture and the decoration practiced by her invaders. Impelled by an influential Arab family, Palmyra passed, in two or three stages, from being a merchant republic governed by a senate, to being a kingdom under a certain Odenathus the Younger who awarded himself the original title of "King of Kings". To be sure, his brilliant military actions had earned him the gratitude of Rome: the Palmyrene armies had twice defeated the Persian armies and, in 267, the Senate of Rome named him the "Corrector of the East" in return. The authority of Oriental Palmyra seemed destined to to extend over a vast territory. But at the end of 267 Odenathus and his, the heir to the throne, were assassinated in mysterious circumstances. Rumor had is that Zenobia, the kings second wife and mother of a very young son, was in some way involved in the crime. In fact, the queen immediately revealed herself to be an exceptionally able monarch. She was boundlessly ambitious for herself, for her son and for her people. Within six years she had affected the whole life of Palmyra. Her dreams of unattainable glory and greatness had brought ill fortune, ruin and .death to the flourishing city. In 270, the Queen, who claimed to be descended from -Cleopatra, took possession of the whole of Syria, con quered Lower Egypt and sent her armies across Asia Minor as far as the Bosphorus. In open defiance of Rome, Zenobia and her son took the title "August and had coinage struck in the name, thus setting themselves up as rival to Aurelian who was at that time having difficulties on the German borders of the Empire.


Major Threat on the Roman Empire
During the 3rd century the wars in which Rome was involved causes lacking of trade between East and West. Persia once more became a major threat to the Roman world. In 260 the Emperor Valerian himself was captured by the Sassanid King, Shahpur I. The confrontation of these two giants, and Rome's need to call and more on the aid of her former subject peoples caused the leaders of Palmyra to come to the logical conclusion that the hour had perhaps come to liberate, the whole of the Middle East from foreign domination whether Roman or Persian. But ways had to be found to do this..

Ambitious of a Queen
Impelled by an influential Arab family, Palmyra passed, in two or three stages, from being a merchant republic governed by a senate, to being a kingdom under a certain Odenathus the Younger who awarded himself the original title of "King of Kings". To be sure, his brilliant military actions had earned him the gratitude of Rome: the Palmyrene armies had twice defeated the Persian armies and, in 267, the Senate of Rome named him the "Corrector of the East" in return.

The Death Of a Metropolis
They had acted rashly and too hastily. The Emperor Aurelian disengaged from the northern front, raised a new army, crossed Anatolia, hustled the Palmyrians out of their positions at Antioch and Emesa (Homs) and made straight for Palmyra which fell after a few weeks siege. Zenobia managed to escape and fled east, mounted on a dromedary, hoping for help from ا ,the Sassanids. The Romans, fear lending them wings recaptured her as she was crossing the Euphrates (in the autumn of 272). Zenobia was taken prisoner to Rome where she was forced to ride in Aurelianis -Triumph" in 274. She died soon afterwards, in corn" fortable exile at Tibur (Tivoli), but not before she had learned that a last revolt by her subjects against their Roman rulers had been bloody put down, and that her splendid wealthy city had been pillaged and was due to be destroyed (273). Palmyra was reduced from . being a capital to a mere Syrian frontier stronghoId New walls were built, smaller than those in Zenobiais time, and under Diocletian (293-303), the Romans established a military camp to the west of the city apparently on the site of the palace of Odenathus and Zenobia, which is said to have been demolished and of which archaeologists have so far discovered no trace. Palmyra never recovered her position. Aleppo, during the Byzantine period, and then Damascus, after 634, from the beginning of the Islamic period, became, in their respective ways, equally important as centers of commerce and ideas. The temples of Palmyra were converted first into churches then into mosques. In the 12th century the walls around the shrine of Bel itself were adapted for use as a fortress. At the beginning of the 17th century, the Emir Fakhr ad-Din was still using ,Palmyra as a place which to exercise his police However he was anxious to have greater security than hat offered by the ruined city, so he had a castle built on the hillside overlooking it. Down below, the ruins .soon sheltered only a few peasants. In 1751 Palmyra was visited by two English travelers in the course of a long and difficult journey around the Orient. They brought back books of sketches which astounded the contemporary artistic and scientific world. The elegant and mysterious Palmyrene script was deciphered soon afterwards. However, it was not really until our own time, eighteenth centuries after the dramatic end of the Arab Queens Zenobiais . reign, that Palmyra finally re-emerged from oblivion