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Zenobia's veil

SYRIA | Wednesday, 27 May 2015 | Views [337] | Comments [2] | Scholarship Entry

Every morning, I wake up, and view my quiet hometown through a Syrian veil. Draped across my bedroom window is a faded black and red shawl, which I’ve carried with me since I visited Palmyra in 2007

We were there to see the ruins of this once powerful Silk Road hub, but once there, found the most outstanding feature of Palmyra to be its people. People so friendly, I was often suspicious they were trying to sell you something (they sometimes were). But more often than not, they didn’t want your money. They wanted answers.

In 2002, George W. Bush had included Syria in his Axis of Evil. Syrians had not forgotten. On my second day in Palmyra, I was accosted by a teenage boy brandishing an armful of scarves and a broad smile. “Hey pretty lady, let me dress you like Zenobia!” A 3rd century Palmyrene queen, revered for leading a revolt against the Roman Empire, Zenobia’s story crops up often in this town. I’d barely time to blink before he’d stepped forward and conducted some kind of sartorial voodoo, pirouetting in the dust, twisting, looping and tucking one of the scarves into an Arabian Nights swirl. “You are beautiful now, a warrior queen!”

Then he’d asked, “Why do people in the West think we are evil?” I assured him that mostly, we didn’t, but he was unconvinced. Over the last few years, he said, tourists had stopped coming, and life was getting harder in this desert outpost.

That evening, we caught a ride with a tour group up to Qala’at ibn Maan, a 12th century Muslim citadel set on the hill above the town. Cameras clicked, whirred and snapped, as the light of the setting sun snagged golden on Palmyra’s weathered pillars, ancient temples and oasis palms.

Things did not end well for Zenobia. After successive failed battles against the Romans, Palmyra’s warrior queen fled the city by camel, but was captured by the emperor’s horsemen on the Euphrates River. She was taken to Rome, and paraded through the streets in golden chains.

This week, a new flag flies over Palmyra – the black flag of ISIS. Reports came in this morning of the extremist group sweeping through the town, slaughtering hundreds of men, women and children thought to be loyal to the Syrian regime.

I fear for them. The laughing scarf salesman, the many people I met who gave life to the ruins of Palmyra’s desert.

Visit the places they say you shouldn’t. Talk to the people you meet about more than the price of scarves. Cherish the world before it crumbles to dust.

Tags: 2015 Writing Scholarship



So sad that all that heritage is being lost. Well done for taking the leap and visiting it before the war. I wish I had!

  Zzella May 28, 2015 1:54 AM


Thanks Zzella - I felt pretty lucky to be able to visit, and correspondingly, pretty devastated to see what's happening there now :(

  nicoleg Jun 5, 2015 8:41 PM

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