Monday, November 14, 2011

Palmyra - The Bride of Desert

    Standing in the heart of Syrian Desert, Palmyra (Tadmor in Arabic) is often described as the bride of the desert. The earliest documented reference to the city by its Semitic name Tadmor which means "the town that repels" is recorded in Babylonian tablets found in Mari.Palmyra was mentioned in the Old Testament as being fortified by Solomon and it flourished in Roman times.

The city was built on an oasis lying approximately halfway between the Mediterranean Sea in the west and the Euphrates River east, located near a hot-water spring called Afqa, which make it an ideal halt for caravans moving between Iraq and Al-Sham (present day Syria, Lebanon, Holy Land and Jordan), trading in silk from China to the Mediterranean. This strategic location made Palmyra prosper in a well-established kingdom from the 2nd century BC.

After Romans conquered Syria, Palmyra flourished and became known as city of palm-trees. It steadily grew in importance as a trade route linking Persia, India, China, and the Roman empire. In 129 getting impressed by the city emperor Adrian declared it a free city; in return, people of Palmyra gratefully called their city Adrianapalmyra.
The Severus emperors then, who were originally Syrian, came to rule Palmyra, they treated its people extremely well. In 217 Emperor Caracalla declared it a Roman colony, which made it a luxurious one: new constructions, streets, arches, temples and statues were built, making Palmyra one of the greatest cities of Roman empire.

When conflict between Persia and Rome reached its crisis, Rome resorted to ruler of Palmyra for help. This ruler, Auzaina, managed to withstand Persian armies, which led Romans to call him leader of East. But he was soon assassinated in mysterious circumstances, and his second wife, Queen Zenobia, a woman renowned for her exceptionally strong character, took power.

Zenobia ruled Palmyra in a way that astonished both West and East. She was exceptionally intelligent and attractive. She was a gifted linguist, an eloquent speaker of Palmyrian, Greek and Egyptian. Zenobia had a wide knowledge of politics, and in her court, she had many philosophers, scholars and theologians.

Queen Zenobia was soon fired by ambition of getting rid of Roman domination. In 268, during reign of Emperor Aurelian, she decided to conquer all of Rome's territories. He was then very much engaged in internal conflicts as well as external wars. This enabled her to take over whole Syria, conquer Egypt and send armies to Asia Minor, gaining control thereby of all land and sea ways to Far East. She took the title of August, which was only used by emperor of Rome.

However, Emperor Aurelian took quick action in settling his internal disputes, and started to plan his revenge on Queen Zenobia. In 272 Queen Zenobia was defeated and taken captive to Rome, fettered in chains of gold where she poisoned herself. A year later, Palmyra was destroyed and the inhabitants slaughtered.

In the 6th century, Palmyra's defences are rebuilt by emperor Justinian and a few Byzantine churches were built, but most of the city remained in ruins. In 634, Palmyra was taken by the Muslim Arabs under Khalid ibn Walid in the name of the first Muslim caliph, Abu Bakr. A castle was built on top of a mountain overlooking the oasis. Surrounded by a moat, the castle was accessible only through a drawbridge.

In 1089, a major earthquake destroyed what was left of Palmyra. In 1678, Palmyra was "rediscovered" by two English merchants living in Aleppo. There is much to see at the site today, including several temples dedicated to Aramean, Babylonian and Mesopotamian deities. The ancient ruins are a World Heritage Site and are one of the most popular tourist destinations in Syria. 
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