Syria Tour Guide: Palmyra

Syria Tour Guide: Palmyra Last updated on Monday 26th April 2010

Palmyra is 150 miles (243km) northeast of Damascus, and is Syria's most famous tourist attraction. Situated at an oasis in the desert, this ruined city is at a considerable distance from any other water source, as it is 150km from the Orontes River in the west and 200km from the Euphrates in the east. The ruins (pictured) have been extensively excavated and painstakingly restored.

Palmyra's local name is Tadmor and it has been a settlement since Neolithic times. From about 1000BC for about one millennium it was an Assyrian caravan town and later became an important outpost of the Greek Empire for about two hundred years. In 217A.D. it was annexed by Rome and enjoyed a period of astonishing wealth, gained from taxation on the flourishing caravan trade. The Romans called it Palmyra, "the place of Palms". In 634A.D. the city was conquered by the Muslims and in 1089A.D. was totally destroyed by an earthquake.

The city's most famous ruler was the warrior Queen Zenobia, said to be a descendant of the Egyptian Queen Cleopatra. Half Greek and half Arab, this astonishing woman ruled Palmyra from 266A.D., after the death of her husband in darkly suspicious circumstances.

Powerful and ambitious, she set her armies to fight against the Roman Empire itself and managed to capture Syria, Egypt, Arabia and Anatolia. It was only when she set out to attack Rome itself in 271AD that she was defeated by the forces of Aurelian. Zenobia was taken prisoner and the city was sacked by the Roman army.

What to see in Palmyra

This is a vast site, but with an easily visible layout.

The Temple of Bel on the eastern edge of the site has a huge courtyard, which is 200 metres square. The Great Colonnade lined with columns, was once the city's main street. The Monumental Arch at one end of the colonnade has been partially restored. The Theatre, Market Place and Banqueting Hall are located on the southern side of the colonnaded street. Other buildings, such as baths and temples are scattered on either side of the main street.

The city's museum, situated between the ruins and the new town, contains many statues and objects that have been excavated from the site. Labeling is in English and the museum is open daily, except Tuesday, from 9am-1pm and from 2-4pm.

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