Palmira or Tudmor lies at Homs
state, 155 kilometres east of Homs city and
210 kilometres northeast of Damasco .
Its in the heart of the Syrian Desert, and is often described as
'the bride of the desert'. is without doubt the most beautiful and
magnificent of the Syrian historic sites on the old Silk Road. Its
magnificent remains tell of a heroic history during the reign of
Palmira appeared for the first time in the 2nd millennium BC. It
was mentioned in one of the Assyrian tablets archives of
Mari and in an Assyrian text. It was also
mentioned in the Bible as a part of Solomon's territory.
The 'oasis', as it is sometimes called, is located near a
hot-water spring called Afqa. Palmira was an ideal halt for the
caravans moving between Iraq and al-Sham (present-day
Siria, Lebanon and Jordan),
trading in silk from China to the Mediterranean.
This strategic location made Tudmor (Palmira) proper in a
well-established kingdom from the 2nd century B.C However, Tudmor
was located between two warring empires, Rome and Persia. Tudmor
found that her interests lay more with Rome, since the Persian had
ambitions to take over the mouths of the Euphrates and Tigris
rivers which would endanger Palmira's trade.
When Tudmor was fully occupied by the Romans under Tiberius,
Augustus' successor and was integrated into the Province of Siria
between 14-37 AD, Tudmor became known as the city of palm trees,
and flourished even more: it imposed high taxes on goods from the
caravans, and its horsemen fought alongside the Roman armies.
When the Roman emperor Adrian visited Palmira, he declared her a
'free city'; in return, the people of Tudmor gratefully called
their city 'Adriana Palmira'. When the Severus emperors, who were
originally Syrian (Homs), came to rule
Palmira, they treated her people extremely well. The Emperor
Caracalla declared her a Roman colony (212 AD), something the
Palmyrians had always hoped for, since it exempted them from
paying taxes on luxury items such as perfumes, spices, ivory,
glass and silk. This made the city a luxurious one: new
constructions, street, arches, temples and statues were built,
making Palmira one of the greatest cities of the Roman empire.
When the conflict between Persia and Rome reached its crisis, Rome
resorted to the ruler of Palmira for help. The leader Septimus
Odeinat (Odenathus) became quite favoured by Rome and in 256/7 was
appointed by the Emperor Valerian as Consul and Governor of the
province of Siria Phoenice which Palmira had been transferred to
in 194. A few years later Valerian was captured and murdered by
the Sassanian Persians, and in redemption Odeinat campaigned as
far as the Sassanian capital Ctesiphon.
Palmira's greatest days however were after the murder of Odeinat,
when his wife Zenobia started ruling Palmira on behalf of
her son Vaballath. Zenobia, women renowned for her
exceptionally strong character, took power. She ruled Palmira 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 the ambition of getting rid of Roman domination.
In 268, during the reign of Emperor Aurelian, Zenobia with the
help of her Prime Minister Longinus, she decided to conquer all of
Rome's territories. Aurelian was then very much engaged in
internal conflicts as well as external wars. This enabled Queen
Zenobia to take over the whole of Siria, she headed for the north
and attempted to take Antioch, conquer Egypt (269-270) and send
her armies to Asia Minor, gaining control thereby of all the land
and sea-ways to the Far East. She took the title of 'August',
which was only used by the emperor of Rome, and she had money
coined with her and her son's likeness upon it, without that of
the emperor of Rome. However, the Emperor Aurelian took quick
action in setting his internal disputes, and started to plan his
revenge on Queen Zenobia. He formed a new army for this purpose,
which proceeded through Turkey to conquer Zenobia's army in its
first defensive position in Homs (Emesa).
It besieged Palmira until it fell in 274. Queen Zenobia was
defeated and taken captive to Rome, fettered in chain gold.
The destiny of the great kingdom of Palmira was no better than
that of its queen; the city fell prey to looting and destruction.
Archaeologists are still working on excavations there in order to
uncover the queen's palace, which was destroyed by the Romans and
replaced by a military camp. Queen Zenobia's ambitious dream is
still embodied in the magnificent remains of what she built.
Later in the Byzantine period a few churches were built and added
to the much ruined city. It was then taken by the Arabs under
Khaled Ibn Al Walid who was leader of the Arab army under the
Caliph Abu Bakr. It played a minor defensive role during the
Islamic periods although the Umayyads built the two Qasr Al Heirs.
Later Temple of Baal was fortified and the Arab Castle of
Fakhredin Al Maany was built. Since then it has had no major roles
and the ruins have fallen victim to natural erosion.
Main attractions and historical building
A tour among the ruins, which cover an area of 6 square
kilometres, requires a full day in order to form an adequate idea
of the beauty of the architecture, which has remained. Worth
visiting are the Baal temple, the Arch of Triumph,
the amphitheatre, the baths, the 'Straight Street',
the Congress Council and the Cemeteries.
Close to Palmira, on a nearby hill, stands the citadel of
Fakhredin Al Maany(17th century). The museum of Palmira
(The Tudmor museum) is rich in art of different periods,
sculpture, mosaic, gold, bronze and pottery. It also exhibits the
folklore of Palmira and the Syrian desert. The spring of Afqa in
Palmira is the source of life of the famous oasis. Its sulphurous
mineral water is said to aid in the treatment of skin diseases,
chest and liver complaints and anemia. It also stimulates
digestion and blood circulation.