Palmyra, an oasis in the Syrian desert, north-east of Damascus, is a ruined city and a story teller of the magnificant past, it enjoyed. Palmyra experienced different people and rulers and now, contains the monumental ruins of a great city that was one of the most important cultural centres of the ancient world, dating back to the Neolithic period, the city was first documented in the early second millennium BC.
according to the stone tools found at the site, Palmyra dates back to 7500 BC and soem findings suggest that the site had been inhabited from 2300 BC.
Out of many rulers, the most famous rulers of Palmyra were Romans, who controlled the command of the city in the first century AD.
The people here, were renowned merchants with the links, reaching as far as the Silk road. The wealth earned by the city, was used in the construction of monumental projects, such as the Great Colonnade, the Temple of Bel, and the distinctive tower tombs.
People and Language.
The Palmyrenes were not from the same caste or clan but they were the mixture of Amorites, Armeans and Arabs but still, the locally spoken language was Palmyrene (an Armaic dialect). Whereas, Greek was used for the diplomatic and commercial use.
It was an interesting combination of different cultures. Primarily, the culture had an influence of the both, Greek and Romans so a very distinctive and an amazing eastern plus western architecture was produced as a result.
Attacks and Aftermaths
Palmyra also followed the old tradition of wars, and came under the attacks, several times. The Persians were defeated by the Palmyrenes but after this defeat, the Romans faced a setback from the new Persian government. But, a more interesting change came in the 4th century, when Palmyra became Christian and in the Second Half of the 1st millennium, Palmyra converted to Islam and Arabic replaced Greek languages.
The first known native name of the city was a Sematic language term ‘Tadmor”, appeared in 2nd millennium BC which, according to the philologist Albert Schultens, is derived from the Semitic word for “dates” (tamar), thus referring to the palm trees that surrounded the city.
However, the name “Palmyra” appeared during the early first century AD in the works of Pliny the Elder, and was used throughout the Graeco-Roman world.
The academic activities are subject to doubt, as Palmyra had no large libraries or publishing facilities, and there is only one notable scholar documented, Cassius Longinus.
West of the ancient walls, the Palmyrenes built a number of large-scale funerary monuments near Valley of Tombs, whereas the tombs were basically built, underground.
This building has largely ruined and is left with a very small size with a courtyard .
Much of the Baths of Diocletian are ruined and do not survive above the level of the foundations. The outline of a bathing pool surrounded by a colonnade of Corinthian columns is still visible in addition to an octagonal room that served as a dressing room containing a drain in its center.
The agora is a massive, 71 by 84 metre structure with 11 entrances. Inside the agora, 200 columnar bases that used to hold statues of prominent citizens were found. The agora was huge but it resembled an Eastern caravanserai more than a hub of public life rather than a Greek Agora.
The Tariff Court is a large rectangular enclosure south of the agora and sharing its northern wall with it. The court gained its name by containing a 5 meters long stone slab that had the Palmyrene tax law inscribed on it.
The Temple of Bel
It was dedicated in 32 AD. It had a rectangular shape and was oriented north-south. The exterior wall was 205-metre long with a propylaea, and the cella stood on a podium in the middle of the enclosure.
The Temple of Baalshamin
It dates to the late 2nd century BC in its earliest phases.The temple is consisted of a central cella and two colonnaded courtyards north and south of the central structure.
The Temple of Nabu
The temple was Eastern in its plan but now, it has been largely ruined.
The Temple of Al-lāt
Like the others, this temple is also ruined heavily and is left only with; a podium, a few columns and the door frame. Inside the compound, a giant lion relief (Lion of Al-lāt) was excavated and in its original form, was a relief protruding from the temple compound’s wall.
Temple of Baal-hamon
It was located on the top of Jabal al-Muntar hill which oversees the spring of Efqa. The temple had a defensive tower attached to it; a mosaic depicting the sanctuary was excavated and it revealed that both the cella and the vestibule were decorated with merlons.
The Great Colonnade
It was Palmyra’s 1.1-kilometre-long main street; most of the columns date to the second century AD and each is 9.50 metres high.
It is also known as the House Tomb, is located at the western end of the Great Colonnade.It was built in the third century AD and has a portico of six columns and vine patterns carvings. The shrine might have been connected to the royal family as it is the only tomb inside the city’s walls.
It was erected during the renovations of Diocletian at the end of the third century. It is a square platform and each corner contains a grouping of four columns.
The city’s current walls were erected during the reign of Diocletian whose fortification of the city enclosed a much smaller area than the original pre-273 city.The Diocletianic walls had protective towers and fortified gateways.
The pre-273 walls were narrow and while encircling the whole city, they do not seem to have provided real protection against an invasion.
Polytheism was practiced in Palmyra as the people of Palmyra worshiped many gods and goddesses from Mesopotamia, Syria, Arabia and Greece. They built a series of temples and large monuments containing funerary art, or art representing the dead.
- It was a long forgotten site till 20th century and finally received her first excavations in 1902 by Otto Puchstein and in 1917 by Theodor Wiegand. In 1929, French general director of antiquities of Syria and Lebanon Henri Arnold Seyrig began large-scale excavation of the site.
- Seyrig started with the Temple of Bel in 1929 and between 1939 and 1940 he excavated the Agora.
- From 1954 to 1956, a Swiss expedition organized by UNESCO excavated the Temple of Baalshamin.
- Since 1958, the site has been excavated by the Syrian Directorate-General of Antiquities,and Polish expeditions led by many archaeologists including Kazimierz Michałowski (until 1980) and Michael Gawlikowski (until 2011). The Polish expedition concentrated its work in the Camp of Diocletian while the Syrian Directorate-General of Antiquities excavated the Temple of Nabu.
- Most of the hypogea were excavated jointly by the Polish expedition and the Syrian Directorate.
- The area of Efqa was excavated by Jean Starcky and Jafar al-Hassani.
- The Temple of Baal-hamon was discovered by Robert du Mesnil du Buisson in the 1970s.
- The Palmyrene irrigation system was discovered in 2008 by Jørgen Christian Meyer who researched the Palmyrene countryside through ground inspections and satellite images.
In 1980, the historic site including the necropolis outside the walls was declared a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO.
In November 2010 the Austrian media manager Helmut Thoma admitted looting a Palmyrene grave in 1980, stealing architectural pieces for his home.
Destruction by ISIL
The militants of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), on May 23, 2015 the militants destroyed the Lion of Al-lāt and other statues. The militant group destroyed the Temple of Baalshamin on 23 August 2015 according to Abdulkarim and activists, while the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claimed that the destruction took place one month earlier.
On 31 August 2015, the United Nations confirmed the temple was destroyed. ISIL destroyed three of the best preserved tower tombs including the Tower of Elahbel.