My ARCHAEO-Crush for the month of April is a wonderful site in Syria that has suffered tremendously in the last year and has been in the media a lot recently.
Type: site (ancient city with various monuments)
Civilisation: Ancient Syria (part of/controlled by various empires during its long history)
Date: Bronze Age to Middle Ages, 2nd millennium BCE to 1st millennium CE
ARCHAEO-Crush: Palmyra is a ancient city in an oasis in the middle of the Syrian Desert. The Romans were the ones to give the city its name in the 1st century BCE, but the site is also known as Tadmor and it predates the Roman period. In the 19th century BCE, the city is mentioned in tablets from Mari (another Syrian city) as a stop for trade caravans and nomads. Indeed, due to its location (between the Mediterranean and the Euphrates), Palmyra connected the Roman world and Mesopotamia and became a wealthy city on the route between the East and West.
There are fantastic ruins in Palmyra: the Grand Colonnade, Triumphal Arch, various temples (to Bel and Baal-Shamin, for example), an agora, a senate house, a theatre, tower tombs and even Christian churches. There are also baths, which date to the rule of Diocletian but are labelled “bathes of Zenobia” on the signposts. Actually, Zenobia is one of the famous personalities of Palmyra. She was the second wife of Odaenathus, Rome’s client ruler of Palmyra. When her husband and his son from a previous marriage were assassinated, she became the regent of her very young son and declared herself queen of Palmyra (some say she was behind the murder). However, Zenobia had no desire to remain a client of Rome: in 269 CE she seized Egypt, then conquered much of Asia Minor and declared her independence from Rome. Emperor Aurelian defeated her armies in Antioch (Turkey) and Zenobia was captured. Palmyra’s prosperity declined after her death (sources differ about the rebellious queen’s actual fate). The city was taken in the name of the first Muslim caliph, Abu Bakr, in 634 and was ruined by an earthquake in 1089.
Bucket list status: I was tremendously fortunate to vacation in Syria after the dig at Madaba, Jordan, back in 1999. Syria is spectacularly beautiful… and I had a fabulous time at Palmyra.
Additional information: Palmyra has been on UNESCO’s World Heritage since 1980 (no. 23) and was inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger in 2013. Unfortunately, several monuments in my pictures were destroyed by ISIL in 2015. You can find heartbreaking before and after photos of the monuments here. You can also read ASOR’s Cultural Initiative Special Report on Palmyra.