Day 13: Palmyra
Palmyra Travel Blog› entry 23 of 54 › view all entries
We got up before dawn, in order to see the sunrise over Palmyra. Unlike Apamea, which is built from grey rock, Palmyra is built entirely out of sandstone, which colours bright orange in the light of sunrise or sunset.
The desert sunrise was everything a desert sunrise is supposed to be. A bright orange ball, slowly rising above the horizon, casting a fiery orange glow on the columns.
We are all but alone at the site, which gave the whole experience something magical.
The whole place is just stunning. Yes, it's another pile of rock of which we'd seen plenty by now, but there's just something about piles of rock in a desert.
We spent about an hour and half taking many, many pictures (at least 100 each) before we headed back to the hotel for some breackfast and a shower.
Two hours later we returned to the ruins and the site had changed completely. From the eerie calm in the morning to the type of tourist craze we'd not seen before in this country. Several tourist buses had arrived, and there were brightly coloured old people scuttling about with umbrellas shading themselves from the hot desert sun. Just like for example Ankor Wat in Cambodia or Tikal in Guatemala, you won't find a single Japanese tourist in the entire country, until you get to the one famous place and all of a sudden they're there by the hundreds. And it is not that I blame them for visiting this place, not at all.
Anyway, the site was more than big enough to not be bothered by them. The groups focused mainly around the completely restored amphitheatre, the remains of the temple of Baal (yup, here too) and the cardo maximus, the 'main street' planted with columns on both sides. We'd seen most of this during our morning stroll, so we went a bit further out of the 'centre', where there are several villas and bath houses to be found. Some completely ruined, others remarkably well-preserved (or restored).
Another special feat of Palmyra are the funerary towers which are located in the hills surrounding the city, and most of these are still completely intact.
Besides towers there are also several tombs, and we took a taxi to the most famous of them, which was discovered only 20 years ago, the Japanese tomb. No, this was not a tomb where Japanese were buried, but rather a tomb discovered by Japanese archaeologists.
All in all Palmyra is a compelling place, with a compelling history. The city was a more or less independent Roman outpost, benefiting from the trade route to Persia. But then came this woman, Zenobia, who declared independence from Rome and built an empire which comprised of most of Syria, Jordan and part of Egypt.
Romans never liked open defiance and retaliated a couple of years later they recaptured Palmyra, effectively heralding the demise of the city. After an earthquake in the 7th century the city was left to the desert sand and wind, where it lay undisturbed for over 1000 years before it was 'rediscovered' again by British explorers.
As we had been walking around since 5:30 in the morning, we were getting rather tired after midday. The museum wasn't overly interesting either (most artefacts have been moved to the national museum in Damascus) so we spent the rest of the afternoon sipping some tea in front of our hotel, watching the world go by.
Modern Palmyra is a funny place. It looks like a tourist trap. It *is* a tourist trap. The main street is nothing more than a collection hotels, some restaurants and many, many many souvenir shops.
However, it should be clear by now that Syrians are pretty much the nicest people in the world. And even though they really want you to buy something off them, and that is the main reason why they approach you, they aren't the least bit pushy.
Dinner wise there aren't many options in Palmyra, so we ended up in the same restaurant as yesterday (with the wonderful name “Traditional Restaurant”). During the course of the day the owner had offered us a cup of tea at least three times, so we felt we owed this to him. The food was great, even though my 'Camel-kebab' tasted suspiciously similar to the Lamb kebabs I've been eating here for two weeks.