It’s almost a year since lock down began and at the moment planning any trip seems ambitious. Having no escape from the Scottish winter has made the latest lock down the hardest of all so now seems a good time to remind myself there was a time when I felt the warmth of the sun on my face, and I didn’t need 4 layers and full thermals just to leave home. Palmyra came to world attention for all the wrong reasons but for me the first thing I think of is the isolated desert setting, the amber colour of the stone and a unique aura which lingers amongst the ruins.
Palmyra is a desert city which became an important stopping point on the Silk Road because it connected Persia in the East to Turkey in the West. The springs of Palmyra created an oasis in a barren land. I remember looking across the desert and wondering how travellers of old would have felt seeing Palmyra in the distance. Finally, after what must have been a long and dangerous journey, safety was in sight.
It was also a place of war. I remember the guide telling me the tale of Queen Zenobia being captured, trussed in gold chains, and carried off to Rome on a chariot. Palmyra has a unique vibe as if the thousands of years of history are hanging in the air and I found myself believing that this story is true.
The Romans may not have built Palmyra but they have left their mark – this Amphitheatre could have been found anywhere across their empire – from Greece to Tunisia.
The columns with the ornate writing remind me of another Syrian treasure – Mari. An ancient site where Aramaic texts were found.
The Temple of Bel captivated me most of all – often not much is left, and your imagination is left to fill in the missing pieces, but not here. At least, not when I visited.
The marks on the side are where gold panels were once fixed – if you were lost in the desert the glint of gold could guide you to safety. Imagine trudging across the barren land of the desert, water running low, food running out and then you see the glint of sun hitting metal. Safety is within reach.
Today the gold has gone and many of the buildings turned to dust. Palmyra isn’t the first city to fall victim to war and I like to think that in the not-too-distant future, the weapons of war will fall silent, the people of Syria will find peace and Palmyra will rise from the ashes and, once again, be a beacon shining in the desert.