Site of Palmyra (1980)

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Syria 1952. Air Post. Graeco-Roman ruins in Palmyra.

An oasis in the Syrian desert, north-east of Damascus, Palmyra contains the monumental ruins of a great city that was one of the most important cultural centres of the ancient world. 

From the 1st to the 2nd century, the art and architecture of Palmyra, standing at the crossroads of several civilizations, married Graeco-Roman techniques with local traditions and Persian influences. 

  • Syria 1952. Air Post. Graeco-Roman ruins in Palmyra. 

Palmyra is an oasis on the northern edge of the Syrian Desert, 240 km (150 mi) northeast of Damascus. The ruins of Palmyra are located 5 km (3 mi) west of the modern town of Tadmuriyah. Palmyra (meaning “Palm City”) was the Greek and Latin name of the place, but in more ancient times it bore a name similar to that of the modern town. In inscriptions dating to the time of King Tiglath-pileser I of Assyria, around 1100 BC, the city is called Tadmar. In the Bible it is called Tadmor (1 Kings 9:18 and 2 Chronicles 8:4). 

Syria 1961. Air Post. Young Beauty from Palmyra. Syria 1949. Graeco-Roman Columns of Palmyra. Syria 1940. Palmyra Columns.

Syria 1952. Air Post. Queen Zenobia.

In 129 Emperor Hadrian restored many of its buildings and named it Hadriana Palmyra after himself. Septimius Severus (reigned 193-211) gave it the standing of a Roman colony. For the most part, however, Palmyra maintained a relatively independent and neutral position between the empire of Rome to the west and the empire of Parthia to the east. 

Palmyra reached its high point in the 3rd century AD under its ruler Odenathus. An ally of Rome, Odenathus helped the Romans regain territory they had lost to King Shapur I of Persia (reigned 241-272). 

Upon the assassination of Odenathus, probably in 267, his widow, Zenobia, succeeded him. Within three years she extended her rule to all of Syria, to Egypt, and to most of Asia Minor. Her ambition led to war with Rome, and in 272 Emperor Aurelian captured her and sacked Palmyra. The city never recovered its importance and splendor. 

  • Syria 1952. Air Post. Queen Zenobia. 
Palmyra was conquered by Muslim Arabs in 634 and made an Arab fortress. In 1089 it was destroyed by an earthquake. Plundering hastened its decay, and it sank rapidly to the ruins that remain to this day. 

The chief structures of the ancient city included the temple of Bel, or Baal (1st century bc); the temple of Bel-shamin (1st century ad); the agora, or marketplace (2nd century ad); the theater and civic center; and the rectangular walled caravanserai, or inn for caravans. The temple of Bel, or Baal, also known as the temple of the Sun, still stands. 

  • Syria 1969. Air Post. Temple of Baal-Shamin. 

Syria 1969. Air Post. Temple of Baal-Shamin, Palmyra.

Syria 1952. Air Post. Palmyra Archway.

Also still standing is the colonnade, nearly 1.6 km (1 mi) long, which originally consisted of some 1,500 Corinthian columns. The main street of the ancient city was the old caravan road. In Roman times it was transformed into a long and beautiful avenue adorned with colonnades and monumental arches. 
  • Syria 1952. Air Post. Palmyra Archway.  

According to tradition, Palmyra was founded by Solomon, king of ancient Israel. It was the easternmost city of Solomon's empire. Palmyra owed its prominence to its strategic location on the ancient trade routes between Egypt and the Persian Gulf.

The earliest surviving inscription from Palmyra dates from 32 BC. Palmyra was a prosperous caravan station in the 1st century BC. It became a Roman outpost and a major city-state within the Roman Empire in the 1st century AD. 

Its chief commercial rival was Petra, an ancient city in what is now southwestern Jordan (on this site). Palmyra prospered even more when the Romans conquered Petra in AD 106. The Roman emperors lavished favors on Palmyra. 

Sources and links:

Other World Cultural Heritage Properties in Syria (on this web site). For more information about the individual properties, please refer to the UNESCO-listing, Syria-section. 

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Revised 29 jul 2006  
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