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Jan 22, 2007 - road to damascus series    Comments Off

Road to Damascus 31 – Palmyra Ruins

Description of Palmyra Ruins

Breathless beauties of pink

wind themselves around

the stems of ancient ruins.

Desert camels start the

short journeys, disgusted

by the bright tourists

on their back.

Woven textiles,

precious stones,

plastic baubles,

coke for 5 liras.

In one spellbinding moment

history becomes as alluring

as the sand and wind,

that surround us.

Camel at the Palmyra ruins

Palmyra was an important ancient caravan city. It had underground springs that made it an oasis along one of the main trade routes linking the East with the Roman Empire in the West. It reached its peak of wealth and importance in the 2nd and 3rd Centuries AC. The most famous of it’s rulers was a Queen named Zenobia. She however got a little power hungry and tried to make her son emperor. The crushing of this rebellion by Rome in 271 AC ended Palmyra’s rise to fame and fortune, and marked its decline into obscurity. By the time the Muslims entered in the 7th Century with Khalid ibn Walid at the head, the city had largely been abandoned to the desert. Today its ruins are some of the most beautiful in the world and Palmyra also called the “bride of the desert” is arguably the biggest attraction in the Middle East after the pyramids.

I visited Palmyra twice. Once on a class trip and the second time with British friends. I could have gone again and again. This place is just beyond amazing. It has so much history, importance and even a kind of romance that just attracts all kinds of people… tourists from all over the world, Indiana Jones types, professors of history, adventurers. There’s just something about taking a camel ride through the ruins of a once thriving, wealthy ancient city. Definitely one of the highlights of my life.

There are lots of pictures here. Basically all Roman cities had this one main street in the middle of town and they were always lined with roman columns called a colonande. You can see some pictures of those. Oh and sometimes wealthy patrons would pay for part of the road and they would get to have a little statue of themselves on the column to show they payed for it! There are also pictures of what were once temples,the public roman baths, above ground aqueducts, tombs, a theater, tetrapylon (the four corner thingie which is basically an ancient roundabout), forum (marketplace or main square). And you thought you’d never need to know all that junk from the Ancient Rome chapter in 9th grade ;)

Palmyra today is a huge tourist attraction. There are a number of hotels and the modern city that’s sprung up around the ruins is called Tadmoor. As soon as we got there, all these camel renter guys and hawkers of tourist baubles like plastic beads and postcards all but mobbed us. AND they all spoke English… better English than spoken in Damascus!

I have to say I fell in love with Palmyra. I’ve written pages and pages in my journal about it, it’s history, buildings, ambience, people there…so will add that all later inshaAllah. I also wrote a fictional short story based on Palmyra — called Qalat an-Noor. Check it out if you haven’t read it yet under the blog category writings ;)

Link to the pictures of Palmyra Ruins

Jan 20, 2007 - road to damascus series    Comments Off

Road to Damascus 30 – Palmyra Hypogeas

Description of Palmyra Hypogeas

A Palmyra hypogea

The first thing we saw when we rolled into Palmyra in our nice air conditioned bus were these tall little structures everywhere. Some made of loose stones. Others were actual buildings. These are the burial vaults of Palmyra. They buried their dead above ground in these things. We went into the biggest one there and you can see how when you enter there are little drawers on the side for each body and on the front is a picture or bust of the person’s face. Seriously eerie to look at the faces of people who have been dead since the third century A.C. The book called them Palmyra faces of eternity.


Hypogeas actually means underground vaults and I think they had some of those too but they were closed at the time.

Link to the pictures of Palmyra Hypogeas

Jan 19, 2007 - road to damascus series    4 Comments

Road to Damascus 29 – Palmyra Desert Baghdad Cafe

Description of Palmyra Desert Baghdad Cafe

Baghdad Cafe

We took an official school trip to Palmyra in March. (Read more about Palmyra in the Ruins section.) On the way there we travelled through the deserts of Syria. This was real desert. When I went to Makkah and Madinah I thought it would be sandy desert but it was just rocky and barren. Syrian deserts were more like I thought a desert was. It’s just sand, sandy, hot and miles and miles of it in every direction. Every now and then we saw little white bedouin tents or a shepherd with his herd with his face all covered with that Palestinian scarf.

There’s a picture of me writing in my journal just contemplating what we were seeing out the windows. (One day I’ll add it here there was alot of nice stuff I wrote.)

I just could not believe where I was. On a bus, with a whole class full of Muslim students of the Deen in the middle of the Syrian desert travelling to see ancient ruins. SubhanAllah, SubhanAllah, SubhanAllah. Only 6 months before I was working in a corporate office feeling so helpless at the path my life was taking. You know I learned that we can *think* we are controlling our life, but we really aren’t. Allah is really moving our destiny and can move us from place to place and we truly do not know in which land we will die.

So we were on the Road to Baghdad when all of the sudden this little rest stop called the ‘Baghdad Cafe’ appears literally like a mirage out of the desert. So we got out and checked it out. Basically it’s a tourist attraction/bedouin camp/country store/rest stop. It was actually quite nicely set up. There’s adobe buildings that are a mosque. Bedouin tents open to the public so you can see what the inside of one traditionally looks like. There are also some animals including this really scary dog that we were all afraid of. And then there were shells! That’s what we said.. shells in the middle of the desert!? Apparently they’re FOSSILS, fossils from this desert from the time it was an OCEAN! If that doesn’t blow your mind…I dunno what will. Also, check out the panaromic view. It was like we were on some moonscape or on Tatua? Star Wars fans I forget which planet Luke Skywalker was born on ;)

Link to the pictures of Palmyra Desert Baghdad Cafe