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Salaam Syria

SYRIA | Friday, 6 June 2008 | Views [893]

Palmyra and the Arab Castle

Palmyra and the Arab Castle

They reckon that people have been living in Damascus continually for over 8000 years. That's more than eleven times longer than there has been people living in New Zealand!

After Jordan, Damascus was a bit chaotic which took us a bit by surprise. Being less developed than its southern neighbour it is also cheaper, which was great for our budget.

Our first stop was the Umayyad Mosque, apparently the third most important mosque in the world, and the most important one that non-muslims can get into. Inside Iranian Shiite Muslim women were crying over the shrine of Hussain (grandchild of the Prophet Mohammed) and people of all religons were taking a peak through the green glass windows of the shrine of John the Baptist. Even the non-religous types were catered for with huge glittering gold mosaics on the exterior of the mosque outshining any we had seen previously.

However, these mosaics had nothing on the bling overload on the inside of the Roqiasch Shiite mosque down the road. Imagine if a bunch of Chavs decided to build a mosque in Las Vegas, add a few more sparkles and you'd be close to what this place was like. Bling bling!!

Iraq 152 km. That was one of the street signs we passed as we travelled from Damascus to the ruined city of Palmyra. Nice neighbours around these parts...

The 'Bride of the Desert', Palmyra, prospered as Petra declined. It prospered to the point where Palmyra's power hungry Queen Zenobia decided she could take on Rome. No prizes for guessing who came off second best. What remains today is one of the most extensive and amazing romanesque ruins in the world. And we had the place to ourselves! Without a word of a lie, there would have been no more than 20 other people at this amazing UNESCO world heritage site the entire morning we were there.

As with Jerash, the theatre had been totally rebuilt and it was really interesting to see how the back stage of a Roman style theatre worked. The focal point of the Palmyra ruins is the huge Temple of Bel - Palmyra's God of all Gods. The towering outer walls were in pretty good nick, but centuries of earthquakes meant that a lot of imagination was required to bring the interior to life. Linking the Temple of Bel, the baths, theatre, temples, shops and houses was a huge colonade lining the main street. Including the characteristic 'Tetrapylon' round-about, these structures give a great feel of what it would have been like to walk through the city in its heyday and were the highlight of the site for me.

With archaeological work continuing and bits of buildings sticking out of the ground everywhere, you get the feeling here more than anywhere else that we have been that there are many more treasures just waiting to be discovered just below the surface.

So much amazing history. So many incredible sights. But so few tourists! Courteousy of the USA's self-inflicted crappy relationship with Syria, virtually all western countries "advise against undertaking any unnecessary travel" to this country. But as a traveller, Egypt feels so much more dodgy than Syria. Sharing with fewer tourists was great by us, but apparently times are changing, so the days of having Palmyra to yourself might be numbered.

 

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