Palmyra, the former Tadmor, was an important trading hub between the Euphrates and the Mediterranean in ancient times. The Arab oasis city with a connection to the Silk Road had been closely connected with the Roman Empire since the 1st century AD and became its colony in the early 3rd century. Its heyday was in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. Today the remains of the colonnaded street, the amphitheater and the temple remind of their former size.
Palmyra Ruins: Facts
|Official title:||Palmyra ruins|
|Cultural monument:||10 km² large ruined city in an oasis in the heart of the Syrian Desert with the 200×200 m Baal Temple, the theater from the early 2nd century, the 84×71 m agora, an ancient assembly and market place that is over 1 km long and 11 m wide colonnaded street, the richly carved Hadrian triumphal arch and the baths of Diocletian|
|Location:||Palmyra, northeast of Damascus|
|Appointment:||1980; on the Red List of World Heritage in Danger since 2013 due to the ongoing civil war|
|Meaning:||monumental ruins of one of the most important cultural centers of the ancient world|
Palmyra Ruins: History
|around 7000 BC Chr.||Proven Neolithic settlement|
|32||Consecration of the sanctuary of Baal|
|129||Visit of Emperor Hadrian|
|at 212||Status of a Colonia|
|269-72||The Palmyrian Empire flourished under Queen Septimia Zenobia|
|273||Destruction of the city on Aurelian’s orders|
|274||presumably execution of Zenobias in Rome|
|297||Establishment of an army camp|
|around 1620||Discovery by the Italian Pietro de la Valle|
|2015||Destruction by the terrorist organization Islamic State|
Where the god Baal once ruled
When the Muslim Arabs moved into Palmyra, the “city of palms,” in the 7th century, they were not very comfortable with the grandiose ruins of the oasis city. Who built the huge architecture with its innumerable columns? It could hardly have been human hands! The biblical King Solomon, who is known to have demonic spirits at his command, was the responsible builder – a conviction that lasted into the 20th century. When the ruler of the eastern Arabian Qatar visited the ruins of the desert city in 1960, the archaeologists could not dissuade him from believing that the huge constructions had been created by magic by referring to the inscriptions.
The Italian pioneer of the Orient, Pietro de la Valle, rediscovered Palmyra around 1620. Later visitors were stimulated to melancholy contemplations by the ruin grandezza, for example the French enlightener Comte de Volney in 1787: “The palaces of the kings have become the habitat of wild animals; Flocks graze on the threshold of the temple, and unclean animals inhabit the sanctuary of the gods. Is that how the works of men perish? Is that how empires and nations disappear? ”
An abundant spring gave the oasis, called “Tadmur” by the Arabs, edible water that made life in the middle of the desert possible. In the 1st century BC, the caravan hub rose to become a desert metropolis under the rule of wealthy merchant families. Camel caravans carried the goods of India, Arabia and China and left Palmyra with the goods that came from the countries of the Roman Empire. This lucrative trade filled the city’s purse of the “palm city” thanks to the taxes that had to be paid. Its wealth was reflected in a breathtaking, pompous architecture, which gains additional charm from the contrast to the desert wasteland surrounding the city. The German archaeologist Theodor Wiegand was delighted when he saw the oasis in 1917 with the words: “Palmyra is the greatest heroic landscape I have ever seen.” The most important building in the ancient city was the temple of Baal, an ancient Syrian god who was considered the lord of heaven. This sacred marvel, the construction of which took more than a century, had a huge surrounding wall. Anyone wishing to walk around this wall had to travel more than a kilometer. The podium temple of the god, surrounded by pillars, rose in the center of the holy precinct. Even if the architecture largely followed the Greek pattern, the rite remained entirely oriental – as it were a union of Occident and Orient. The Great Column Street with its arched gate and its tetrapylon differs from the Greco-Roman norm by multiple changes of direction. Despite adopting the classic order, the Palmyrenes reserved a certain degree of urban planning openness. Temples that were dedicated to Nabu, the Mesopotamian god of wisdom and the art of writing, or also to Baal-Shamin, were integrated into a Greek street grid. Magnificent fountains, thermal baths and a theater were places of Mediterranean pastime. The Diocletian’s camp in the west of the city testifies to the »cultural balancing act« of the oasis city: in the middle of this military terrain with barracks, parade ground and sanctuary a temple of the ancient Arab goddess Allat rose. Magnificent fountains, thermal baths and a theater were places of Mediterranean pastime. The Diocletian’s camp in the west of the city testifies to the »cultural balancing act« of the oasis city: in the middle of this military terrain with barracks, parade ground and sanctuary a temple of the ancient Arab goddess Allat rose. Magnificent fountains, thermal baths and a theater were places of Mediterranean pastime. The Diocletian’s camp in the west of the city testifies to the »cultural balancing act« of the oasis city: in the middle of this military terrain with barracks, parade ground and sanctuary a temple of the ancient Arab goddess Allat rose.
Palmyra had always been less concerned about its political than about its economic independence. But after Queen Zenobia had renounced Rome and after successful campaigns she had been able to expand her empire to Egypt and Central Anatolia, she claimed the Roman imperial title for her son. Rome’s counter-attack followed this challenge: In August 273, Palmyra was sacked and destroyed, and the powerful ruler was abducted as a prisoner to Rome.
Centuries of “gentle slumber” followed before Palmyra in the 18th and 19th centuries. Century became a place of pilgrimage for romantic explorers and amateur archaeologists.