"Look on my works, Ye Mighty, and despair!"

Trip Start Nov 30, 2007
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Trip End Jan 17, 2008


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Flag of Syria  ,
Thursday, January 3, 2008

For reasons I can't fully explain, I decided to get a cheap room in Palmyra, despite my high level of discomfort at the budget hotel the night before in Tartus. It can't have been the temperature -- it drops to around freezing at night, and I could see my breath in my room. It was partly the prospect of paying $5 for a night's sleep in a hotel, which puts the New Tourist Hotel in a solid second behind the $3 Elegant Wind Guest House in Da Zhai, Guangxi, China. It was also partly the promises of a hot shower, heater and diesel-powered stove to dry my laundry by. It was also the genial host, Sari, who was just a ridiculously outgoing, wacky guy with an awesome sense of humour. I was in the mood for a coupole of hours of chat, so it fit well. He said they had mostly had crazy Japanese since the Iraq war (which the guestbook confirmed -- the last entry in Englsh was in 2004), and he offered to buy my phone for $10. (Which isn't that far off market value, actually.)

After a cold but tolerable night's sleep under a ton of blankets and a banana pancake breakfast, I hit the ruins. Palmyra is a desert oasis, and it was a major stop on the overland trade route between the Persian Gulf (and by sea to India and China) and the Mediterranean (and by sea to Rome). It was an important city in it's Roman heyday (200-300 BC) but then was eventually abandoned, to the point no one knew it existed. Rediscovered in the 1600s, and excavated starting 1924, the site is a decent sized Roman city, with alll of the trimmings. The baths, Senate and agora are in pretty rough shape, but the theatre has been reconstructed and the major temples are in very nice shape.

The city also has a long colonnade, with a very impressive Monumental Arch; this is one of the most photographed features in Syria, and I contributed a few to that. The arch is supposed to mask a bend in the main road through the city, realigning it so it faced the Temple of Bel. The Temple of Bel (aka Ba'al) is one of the biggest standing structures in the city, and I spent a fair while exploring the nooks and crannies of it.

From there, I passed through the colonnade back towards the main city, looking at the ruins of various other structures, although most were not particularly recognisable. I swung by the museum, which was actually the best of the museums I'd been to in Syria; most of the artifacts were actually well-labeled and understandable. It was pretty impressive to see some of the subtle ways the Romans rendered fabric in marble, and the mosaics were absolutely spectacular.

I caught a cab up to the citadel on the hill; it was an Islamic era structure, but offered a million dollar view of the entire ruined city (and the remaining existing city as well). Sadly, the sunset was only a twenty-dollar sunset, as incoming clouds blocked it off.

And that was my time in Palmyra; I didn't explore every inch of the city, but it was impressive to see the ruins contrasted against the desert beyond.
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