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Palmyra ( ) was in ancient times an important city of central Syriamarker, located in an oasis 215 km northeast of Damascusmarker and 180 km southwest of the Euphrates at Deir ez-Zormarker. It has long been a vital caravan city for travellers crossing the Syrian desert and was known as the Bride of the Desert. The earliest documented reference to the city by its Semitic name Tadmor, Tadmur or Tudmur (which means "the town that repels" in Amorite and "the indomitable town" in Aramaic.) is recorded in Babylonian tablets found in Marimarker.

Though the ancient site fell into disuse after the 16th century, it is still known as Tadmor in Arabic, and there is a newer town next to the ruins of the same name. The Palmyrenes constructed a series of large-scale monuments containing funerary art such as limestone slabs with human busts representing the deceased.

History

Ancient

In the mid first century CE, Palmyra, a wealthy and elegant city located along the caravan routes linking Persiamarker with the Mediterraneanmarker ports of Roman Syria and Phoeniciamarker, came under Roman control. (See below.) During the following period of great prosperity, the Aramaean and Arab inhabitants of Palmyra adopted customs and modes of dress from both the Parthian world to the east and the Graeco-Roman west.

Tadmor is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible (Second Book of Chronicles 8:4) as a desert city built (or fortified) by the King Solomon of Judeamarker, the son of David.

In the First Book of Kings (9:18) is mentioned the city of תמר Tamor or Tamar, also built by Solomon. But it is traditionally read (see Qere) as Tadmor, and several citations in the tractates of the Talmud and of the Midrash refer to that city in the Syrian desert (sometimes interchanging the letters "d" and "t" - "Tatmor" instead of "Tadmor"). Some modern scholars wrote that it could refer to a place near the Dead Seamarker.

Tadmor is also mentioned as built by Solomon in Flavius Josephus Antiquities of the Jews - Book VIII, along with the Greek name of Palmyra.

Tadmor is the name of Palmyra in modern Hebrew. The exact etymology of the name "Palmyra" in this case is unknown, although some scholars believe it was related to the palm trees in the area. Others, however, believe it may have come out of an incorrect translation of the name "Tadmor" (cf. Colledge, Seyrig, Starcky, and others).

The city was first mentioned in the archives of Marimarker in the 2nd millennium BC. It was another trading city in the extensive trade network that linked Mesopotamia and northern Syria. Palmyra is also mentioned in 2 Chronicles (8:4):

Persian and Greco-Roman periods

Detail of a Parthian cavalryman escorting a camel caravan.
Rubbing of a relief at Palmyra
When the Seleucids took control of Syria in 323 BC, the city was left to itself and it became independent. The city flourished as a caravan halt in the 1st century BC. In 41 BC, the Romans under Mark Antony tried to occupy Palmyra but failed as the Palmyrans had received intelligence of their approach. The Palmyrans escaped to the other side of the Euphrates, demonstrating that at that time Palmyra was still a nomadic settlement and its valuables could be removed at short notice.

Jones and Erieira note that Palmyran merchants owned ships in Italian waters and controlled the Indian silk trade. "Palmyra became one of the richest cities of the Near East." "The Palmyrans had really pulled off a great trick, they were the only people who managed to live alongside Rome without being Romanized. They simply pretended to be Romans."

Palmyra was made part of the Roman province of Syria during the reign of Tiberius (14–37). It steadily grew in importance as a trade route linking Persia, India, China, and the Roman empire. In 129, Hadrian visited the city and was so enthralled by it that he proclaimed it a free city and renamed it Palmyra Hadriana.

Beginning in 212, Palmyra's trade diminished as the Sassanids occupied the mouth of the Tigrismarker and the Euphrates. Septimius Odaenathus, a Prince of Palmyra, was appointed by Valerian as the governor of the province of Syria. After Valerian was captured by the Sassanids and died in captivity in Bishapurmarker, Odaenathus campaigned as far as Ctesiphonmarker (near modern-day Baghdadmarker) for revenge, invading the city twice. When Odaenathus was assassinated by his nephew Maconius, his wife Septimia Zenobia took power, ruling Palmyra on the behalf of her son, Vabalathus.

Zenobia rebelled against Roman authority with the help of Cassius Longinus and took over Bosramarker and lands as far to the west as Egyptmarker, establishing the short-lived Palmyrene Empiremarker. Next, she attempted to take Antiochmarker to the north. In 272, the Roman Emperor Aurelian finally retaliated and captured her and brought her back to Rome. He paraded her in golden chains but allowed her to retire to a villa in Tiburmarker, where she took an active part in society for years. This rebellion greatly disturbed Rome, and so Palmyra was forced by the empire to become a military base for the Roman legions.

Diocletian expanded it to harbor even more legions and walled it in to try and save it from the Sassanid threat. The Byzantine period only resulted in the building of a few churches and much of the city was in ruin.

Islamic rule

The city was captured by the Muslim Arabs under Khalid ibn Walid in 634. Palmyra was kept intact. After the year 800 and the civil wars which followed the fall of the Umayyad caliphs, people started abandoning the city. At the time of the Crusades, Palmyra was under the Burid emirs of Damascus, then under Tughtekin, Mohammed the son of Shirkuh, and finally under the emirs of Homsmarker. In 1132 the Burids had the Temple of Ba'al turned into a fortress. In the 13th century the city was handed over to the Mamluk sultan Baybars. In 1401, it was sacked by Tamerlan, but it recovered quickly, so that in the 15th century it was described as boasting "vast gardens, flourishing trades and bizarre monuments" by Ibn Fadlallah al-Omari.

In the 16th century, Qala'at ibn Maan castlemarker was built on top of a mountain overlooking the oasis by Fakhr ad-Din al-Maan II, a Lebanese prince who tried to control the Syrian Desert. The castle was surrounded by a moat, with access only available through a drawbridge. It is possible that earlier fortifications existed on the hill well before then.

The city declined under Ottoman rule, reducing to no more than an oasis village with a small garrison. In the 17th century its location was rediscovered by western travellers, beginning to be studied by European and American archaeologists starting from the 19th centuries. The villagers who had settled in the Temple of Ba'al were dislodged in 1929 by the French authority.

Main sights

City remains

The most striking building in Palmyra is the huge temple of Ba'al 34°32'50.55"N 38°16'26.72"E, considered "the most important religious building of the first century AD in the Middle East". It originated as a Hellenistic temple, of which only fragments of stones survive. The central shrine (cella) was added in the early 1st century AD, followed by a large double colonnaded portico in Corynthian style. The west portico and the entrance (propylaeum) date from the 2nd century. The temple measures 205 x 210 m.

Starting from the temple, a colonnaded street, corresponding to the ancient decumanus, leads to the rest of the ancient city. It has a monumental arch 34°32'59.68"N 38°16'15.66"E (dating to reign of Septimius Severus, early 3rd century AD) with rich decorations. Next were a temple of Nabu, of which little remains today apart the podium, and the so-called baths of Diocletian.

The second most noteworthy remain in Palmyra is the theater 34°33'2.11"N 38°16'7.78"E, today having 9 rows of seating, but most likely having up to 12 with the addition of wooden structures. It has been dated to the early 1st century AD. Behind the theater were a small Senate, where the local nobility discussed laws and political decisions, and the so-called "Tariff Court", which an inscription led to think to be a custom for caravans' payments. Nearby is the large agora 34°33'1.82"N 38°16'2.01"E (measuring 48 x 71 m), with remains of a banquet room (triclinium); the agora's entrance was decorated with statues of Septimius Severus and his family.

The first section of the excavations ends with a largely restored tetrapylon ("Four columns"), a platform with four sets each with four columns (only one of the originals in Egyptian granite still visible). A transverse streets leads to the Diocletian's Camp, built by the Governor of Syria Sosianus Hierocles, with the remains of the large central principia (Hall housing the legions' standards). Nearby are the Temple of the Syrian goddess Allāt (2nd century AD), the Damascus Gate and the Temple of Ba'al-Shamin, erected in AD 17 and later expanded under the reign of Odenathus. Remains include a notable portico leading to the cella.

Funerary art

Outside the ancient walls, the Palmyrenes constructed a series of large-scale funerary monuments, which now form the so-called Valley of the Tombs, a 1 km long necropolis, with a series of large structures with rich decorations. These tombs, some of which were below ground, had interior walls that were cut away or constructed to form burial compartments in which the deceased, extended at full length, was placed. Limestone slabs with human busts (in Roman and Parthian Iranian fashions) in high relief sealed the rectangular openings of the compartments.

These reliefs represented the "personality" or "soul" of the person interred and formed part of the wall decoration inside the tomb chamber. A banquet scene as depicted on this relief would have been displayed in a family tomb rather than that of an individual.

Further excavations

Archaeological teams from various countries have been working on-and-off on different parts of the site. In May 2005, a Polish team excavating at the Lat temple discovered a highly-detailed stone statue of the winged goddess of victory Nike.

Recently, archaeologists in central Syria have unearthed the remnants of a 1,200-year-old church believed to be the largest ever discovered in Syria, at an excavation site in the ancient town of Palmyra. The church is the fourth to be discovered in Palmyra. Officials described the church as the biggest of its kind to be found so far — its base measuring an impressive 51 by 30 yards. The church columns were estimated to be 20 feet tall, with the height of the wooden ceiling more than 49 feet. A small amphitheater was found in the church's courtyard where the experts believe some Christian rituals were practiced.

Early morning panorama of Palmyra.
Panorama of Palmyra.
Sunset in Palmyra.


See also

Ancient arches at Palmyra
Tower tomb at Palmyra


References

  1. Syria uncovers 'largest church' BBC News Online, 14 November 2008. Retrieved 2008-11-16.
  2. Palmyra (Syria) -- Britannica Online Encyclopedia Retrieved 2008-11-16.
  3. Syria Gate - About Syria - Palmyra Retrieved 2008-11-16.


Sources



External links



Information

  • http://i-cias.com/e.o/palmyra.htm


Photography




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