6 Nov 2005
|04 & 05 NOV PALMYRA
It's another few hours in the minibus to Palmyra via Homs. And it is still raining. In fact, get this, Palmyra has had no rain ALL YEAR - until our arrival. We get there in plenty of time for sunset and thankfully the rain ceases and the cloud breaks to give some semblance of pink hue on the weathered limestone ruins.
Palmyra was named by the Romans as the City of Palms (that's date ones) although the locals know it as Tadmor. Today it is pretty much a one horse town but the site of the ruins within the old city walls is one of the largest and most impressive in the world. It certainly covers a vast area and has some splendid collonnades of columns standing imperiously to attention in neat rows.
Three particular features are: the tomb towers, unique to Syria; the underground tombs; and the Temple of Bel, head honcho god of rain.
The tomb towers held up to 400 mummified bodies, stacked in enclosed stone shelves rather like in a giant hospital mortuary. A 'photo' of the deceased on a stone bust was used to seal the end of the enclosure. The towers were built for one family, by that family. Most have been almost wholly destroyed by that nemesis of so much ancient work - the earthquake. One, the Tomb of Elahbel, is remarkably, almost totally complete.
The underground Tomb of the Three Brothers is fabulous, not least because it is 10 degrees warmer down there than outside. And it is dry!
BEL TEMPLE: FRANKLY WE COULD BE IN NORTHUMBERLAND!
The Temple of Bel is vast at 210m x 205m, making it the biggest temple in Syria. There is precious little of the original site walls remaining but a scale model in the museum shows what it would have looked like in its prime, and very impressive that would have been. Until the 1920s the locals lived in the temple site. The 'new' Palmyra is only 76 years old. Unfortunately it is perishing cold, raining persistently and blowing an absolute gale. We could be looking at castle ruins in Northumberland!
ENTERTAINMENT FOR ALL
On the one evening in Palmyra we go to a Bedouin tent for some 'genuine' entertainment and food. I am more prepared to believe in this authenticity here as many present are locals.