Palmyra, founded in the 2nd millennium BC and subsequently abandoned in 1929 AD was also once known as the Bride of the Desert because it was an important city located in an oasis. The ruins of the ancient city of Palmyra were designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1980.
It took us over 3 hours in an old inter-city bus to make our way from the old walled-city of Damascus (ref: Damascus. Syria) to Palmyra. We were the only tourists on the bus filled chiefly with village folk going to Aleppo and it turned out to be quite an adventure, well, perhaps not as much as the journey back. An old man went row to row selling his version of ‘booza’, an ice cream with an elastic, sticky consistency commonly made in the Arab countries. The lady beside me decided to breastfeed her young son mid-jouney while her husband tried to give my friends useful tips on traveling in Syria.
When we finally arrived to what seemed like the middle of nowhere, with vast expanses of desert littered with ancient Roman-isque objects; we could not help but wonder at the grandness that once was.
The Grand Colonnade stretched for a total of 1100 metres and formed the axis of the city, linking through supplementary streets the Temple of Ba’al (Temple of Bel), the Diocletian’s Camp, the Agora, the Roman theatre, other temples and urban quarters.
The Temple of Ba’al (Bel) was built as a sacred dedication in 32 CE to the Semitic god Bel. Bel is a title rather than a name, signifying ‘lord’ or ‘master’, applied to various Gods in the Mesopotamian region of Babylonia, Assyria and Akkad. The trilogy of the Semitic god Bel, the lunar god Aglibol and the sun god Yarhibol formed the centre of religious life in Palmyra.
To the west of the ruins is Qala’at ibn Maan, colloquially known as the Arab Castle, built by Fakhr ad-Din al-Maan in the 16th century strategically perched on top of a mountain overlooking the oasis. We walked up to the castle for the spectacular view of the ruins below and the Valley of Tombs in the distance.
Contrary to suggestions to stay in Palmyra overnight, we decided to head back to Damascus slightly after sun down. We did not, however, return using the inter-city bus route but by appointing the services of a friendly local who drove us back to Damascus in his jalopy of a minivan. The journey back was crazy scary; it was very dark, the road did not have a concrete divider separating oncoming traffic and the mini van was going at a speed her engine (and body) could possibly not support! Nonetheless, we all got back in one piece and will live to tell the tale.