|Salaam Aleikum, We are now in Palmyra in the desert in the center of Syria just 232 kilometers from the border with Iraq (see photo) and we have stopped at quite a few ruins here and along the way. (Wow! We just ran out to the street to check out the source of a noisy, chanting crowd--it was for a football rally!) So we have now seen many, many ruins here and in Morocco and Turkey from the 4th Century BC to the 12th Century AD and although it would be nice for your intrepid reporter to describe, contrast and illuminate all these sites I have neither the time nor inclination to turn this into a history lesson. BUT, I would like to note the ruins, and accompnying dates (this is also our journal for our travels). Tuesday we headed for Hama and our first stop was Albara (3rd Cent BC) noted for it's pyramid shaped tombs. Next was Sirjila (4th Cent BC) which stands out for how well preserved the old buildings are--especially the Hammam (bathhouse), hotel, coffeeshop and temple. Last stop for the day was Amenapa which was very impressive due to the size of the city, the length of its central colonnade--over 2 kilometers--and quality of the restoration of the colonnade, or main street.
We arrived in Hama late afternoon and wandered around this most charming and relaxed city of 800,00, noted for huge wooden water wheels in the center of town built by the Romans in the 1st Cent AD. These wheels serve the functions of lifting water up to a pipe that takes it out in a few directions to the surrounding lands for the purpose of irrigation. You can see from our photo that these wheels are not only a triumh of engineering and functionality but are also very beautiful. Once again people here were extra friendly, even chador clad women who were willing to pose for photos and talk.
Next day (whew!) we drove directly to Krac de Chevalieres, a tremendous fort (12th Cent AD) on top of a hill, built by Richard the Lion-Hearted (many jokes about Bush the Chicken-Hearted) as a base for his armies during the Crusades on their way to capture Jerusalem. The recent film Kingdom of Heaven was filmed here and yesterday a Syrian crew was making a film as well. At one point the director came over and starting talking with us--he was a funny and wacky guy, but also pretty interesting. After a lunch of chicken and mezas we drove into the desert and headed for the small (15,000) city of Palmyra, passing the sign pointing to the Iraqi border which is in our photos. Palmyra is small, and was built around an oasis of date palms (hence the name), and fig and pomegranet trees,which is still flourishing; was a stop along the Silk Road; and is next to another important abandon city (Palmyra). Before arriving in Palmyra our Syrian guide, Bashar, stopped at an old style Bedouin house--dome style--where we visited with this friendly three generation family and shared tea with them--a wonderful break in the day. The ancient city of Palmyra was built around the 1st cent BC and is probably the largest city we have seen, both in the size of the city and the size of the remaining structures-- it housed around 10,000 souls. The buildings are in an excellent state of repair and restoration and from the top of a hill we could see the whole layout of this magnificent place which was ruled for a time by Queen Zenobia and later was part of the Roman Empire. We visited this site Thursday morning and during the afternoon went to a large, fairly new hotel and took a swim in their pool before a wonderful dinner in a small restaurant in town. This meal was in the Bedouin style and consisted of a starter of roasted potatoes, tomatoes and eggplant, then a salad of cucumber and tomato, finally Mensaif--a plate of rice, chicken and lamb--absolutely garlicy and delicious--accompanied by fresh yogurt to top it all with. Oh yeah, dessert of an almond baklava and Arabic coffee. All this food is placed in the middle of the table for us all to take as much as we want. Palmyra was a most rewarding stop and we are now ready to jump into the Damascus tomorrow, which by the way, claims to be the oldest continually inhabited city in the world. Damascus, Here we come!