Not often can we claim that the relics of the distant past have been preserved ,unaltered by the modern man’s world ever growing and moving , but some rare places exist where the heritage of the past endures . The Middle East has some of the greatest relics of human history here you may find cities as old as the ancient world  and ruins from a variety of historic periods. Located in the Syrian desert is the once great merchant city of Palmyra,whose ruins now are part of the desert landscape and offering a testimony to the modern day visitor of several aspects of life in an urban center in the ancient world.

But first a little bit of history to clarify the origins of the city in this seemingly unfriendly landscape. The History of the city begins early in the ancient world , in the records of Assyrian kings and the Hebrew Bible, but it is with Hellenistic Period , to which we owe much of the current aspect of the remains of the city. Being part of the Seleucid Empire it was a sprawling and prosperous set alongside an important commercial route that tied the eastern borders of the empire to the great ports of the eastern Mediterranean sea and many other important urban centers along the merchant highway going toward Asia Minor , cities such as Antioch , Tarsus or Adana . By the year 65 BC , due to Pompey the Great’s campaigns , the roman world now bordered the independent city-state of Palmyra , which was given it’s status prospered as it was a major road hub for commerce between the Parthian Empire and the Roman Republic/Empire .  The first century saw the city and all land around annexed by Romans as they pushed the boundaries ever eastward. The status and wealth of city grew as time went by and as conflicts further south between the Roman Empire and Judea encompassed the province of Palestine , the merchants found their way ever north towards Palmyra , the city becoming a true jewel of the desert. During the crisis of the third century it would come to play its most important part, the city having grown in both size and wealth came to compete with powerful centers of administration such as Antioch or Alexandria and in a way even Rome . Located so far from the center authority of the Empire, the eastern provinces were always under threat from a Persian empire , whether they were portrayed by parthians or sassanids , and with the defeat of emperor Valerian the eastern frontier seemed to collapse. Although part of the empire , the city retained some form of independence and decide to cast their lot with Rome and begin fighting against the Persians.  The instability and relative inability of the roman centralized power to help the provinces led to the crisis of third century when numerous province seceded  from the empire with the sole aim of governing themselves from closer provincial capitals. Thus the empire lost its Gallic possessions, but more important was the loss of all the eastern provinces to the new eastern  empire  with  it’s capital at Palmyra. The Palmyran Empire stretched from Edessa all the way to Egypt , the city of Palmyra becoming it’s main capital and commercial hub. The empire itself and its queen gained great fame although short lived , since emperor Aurelian succeeded in defeating all of invaders of the Roman Empire and subdued the rival empires of Gallia and Palmyra . After it’s defeat by the Romans , the city began it’s decline , still enjoying the status of a minor center  under the Byzantines and the various Arab rules that later followed until it was destroyed in 1400 by the Timurid Empire .

The ancient city still stands today , while in ruins and most of its buildings have been destroyed by invaders or time , the layout of the old ancient city is still perceivable today by travelers. It is one of the best examples of both roman and Hellenistic cities which spanned across the eastern side of the roman world. Preserved by the arid climate , it is one of the few places where one can find unaltered by later historical stages, the architectural traits and characteristic in planning and building of a late Hellenistic city.It is a window that gazes directly into antiquity , a rare sight in today’s world when most of the ancient cities of the roman empire have grown into great urban center since antiquity , here we find one in it’s element preserved in time for future generations.

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Overlooking the Palmyra is the Arab fort that overlooked this important trade and access route into Edessa . The fort has endured until today and is just like it was in Middle Ages.

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The ruins of the temple of Baal and it’s Hellenistic architecture.

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An overview of the cities landscape and it’s Hellenistic image presented by it’s buildings

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The Tetrapylon of Palmyra

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Aerial view of  Palmyra’s colonnade and main temples.

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Above images with the temples and collonade

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The ancient city with night lights

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The Roman theater , an aerial view with the vomitorium clearly seen beneath the spectators seats , also note stage and additional  rooms behind.

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The arab fort , strategically located atop the hill overlooking the city of Palmyra.

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Typical of middle ages fortifications , the fort itself has narrow window slits overlooking the difficult access route to the castle courtyard.

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The Corinthian details on the capitel of the columns.

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Above pictures of the colonnade , its details and archways complete with inscriptions . The roman Hellenistic image is present here through the perceived  symmetry and details of Greek and roman origin.

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Front view of the stage of the roman theater .

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The roman theater’s stage .

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Overview of palmyra and its landscape.

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Palmyra in Syria -Colonnade

 

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Andrei Vasiliu