Saturday, 16 May 2015

Palmyra

I was haflway through another post when I heard that Daesh (ISIS) was on the verge of entering Palmyra. And I have been able to think about little else.  In case you don't know, Palmyra's is a UNESCO world heritage site in Syria, and the Daesh barbarians want to bulldoze it just like they bulldozed the Iraqi site of Nimrod.  If I had not been to the Middle East,  I can't say I would have been as bothered as I am, because to be honest, I'm not that knowledgable about most of the ancient sites I've seen;  but believe me, some of the Middle Eastern sites are in a totally different league from anything you will find in the West.

So although I don't usually do long posts, forgive all these pictures. I want to show you what it was like when we went to Palmyra in February 2011, when many people thought the Syrian tourist industry was on the verge of opening up to more people.  As it was, there were few independent travellers, and we had Palmyra almost entirely to ourselves.

We stayed in an old colonial hotel dating from the 1930s,-  the only hotel which is actually in the midst of the ruins.  You could imagine it featuring in an Agatha Christie novel.   The idea was to see Palmyra as the sun rose, and so we got up before dawn and crept through the deserted entrance lobby and outside.




The darkness was lifting and before long the sky had turned a soft rose and violet colour as the moon dropped towards the horizon and the sky began to brighten..




 Very quickly, the first fierce light of the sun appeared, the Roman columns silhouetted against its vivid glow.




... lighting the buildings up in an orange glow and casting long shadows....

It is a true city, and stretches a long way, and a lot of it has survived the last couple of thousand years. 




The sun came up very fast, and the camels woke up

Everything seemed to glow. 


Very quickly, though, the light became bright and white.  There was complete silence.


It was extraordinary having the place almost to ourselves.



Above the city were strange towers.  The barren looking hills on which they stood were covered in tiny transparent flowers which almost glittered in the sun, but I found them impossible to photograph. As we slogged up the hills we were glad it was winter, and still quite cold in the early mornings. 

I did think of the people who built these great towers.




Down on the plain, the sun was getting brighter







You could go inside some of the buildings. This is the Temple of Bel, nearly two thousand years old. 


There were signs of repairs going on, although nobody was doing the work. 





There were a few places along the road to Palmyra offering refreshments. The owner of the one we chose spoke perfect English. He had lived in England for some years, but returned to Palmyra, his hometown, with the idea of creating an authentic desert restaurant for the tourist trade he hoped would materialise.  

In early 2011, life seemed to be improving in Syria.  Assad was becoming more liberal and, as in Libya, some of the extraordinary ancient ruins were becoming more accessible to individual travellers.  The owner didn't want to charge us for the tea because he wasn't yet officially open - typical of Syrian hospitality.


There's a small unpretentious settlement some way from the ruins with eating places and shops, catering for what tourists there were - nearly all groups.  This was the view from our cafe window. 


The camels I think were supposed to give tourists rides - although there were almost no tourists.  Horses are a good way of getting around the site, since there are no roads. 


By the late afternoon, a handful of other travellers had turned up, although the city was still almost empty. Many people like to climb the mountain to the east of  Palmyra as evening comes on, to view the sunset over the plain.



In the dusty light of evening, some parts of of the landscape looks almost unreal.   Here are those towers.




The sun drops quickly, the desert goes pink again. In the distance are the date plantations.


A telecom mast on the mountain adds a touch of modernity.  About a dozen people were on the mountain, plus many Bedouin, desperate to sell trinkets. The Bedouin, desert dwellers, were the only people who pestered us to buy during our stay in Palmyra.  They are very poor. 



And so the sun disappeared, and that rose glow entered the sky again as night came on



We had a car and drove away from Palmyra then, across the desert.



I spotted this single joker card tucked in among the rocks in Palmyra. For me it sums up the present situation, when anything could happen. Syrian forces are bombing IS to try and stop it from getting into the city.  I do hope that luck is on the side of Palmyra.



As for my political rantings last week, I am quite happy with the results of the election, because I am profoundly grateful to live in a true parliamentary democracy with a stable government.

48 comments:

  1. Thank-you, Jenny. It would be a terrible shame if this were to vanish too, after having stood for so long. Your photos look like something from an Agatha Christie novel - particularly the hotel, as you say! I love the photo of the tea and those beatiful fabric throws.

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  2. Beautiful photographs and a touching tribute to Palmyra.

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  3. A stomach wrenching post; I hope to luck to be on the side of Palmyra, now and in the future. I wonder what is the end to the senseless intolerance.

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  4. Oh Jenny - you must feel terrible knowing that all this might be destroyed.

    And the destruction goes on and on and on. I half heard someone on Radio 4 this morning (I wasn't quite awake) condemning the western response to ISIS - the lessons of recent history, he said, is that extremists can never be bombed into submission. If the west continues to be aggressive the insurgency will spread into Pakistan, Afghanistan and beyond. It is only by talking, talking, talking can we ever begin to understand each other - and to bring peace to beautiful places like this.

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  5. Aye a terrible thing if ISIS get into this place. The monument destruction is just for publicity and they love that! So if they get time they will destroy some of it for show.
    The pictures are marvellous and show the city well. It must have been a great adventure, especially early in the morning! Such a sad state Syria is now in.

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  6. Thank you for these beautiful images. Like you I was horrified to hear the news. I hope that these ruins will remain untouched.

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  7. Ethereally otherworldly.
    Thank you for those visions.

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  8. Super monument. Looks like a dry region.

    Greetings.
    Filip

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  9. Thank you for showing Palmyra...what a tragedy the way things have turned out for the people of Syria.
    But will our posturing governments - so quick to decide to bomb civilians - do anything to protect this wonderful site?

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  10. Wonderful pictures, and along with your description you have really created an enchanted atmosphere here. Such a shame that the feelings of most other people towards this place are not shared by ISIS. Let's hope they can be stopped.

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  11. I am sick!!! I couldn't believe it when they destroyed Nimrod and if they do the same to Palmyra it be horrible. I don't understand why we don't do something about this group.

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  12. Hi Jenny,
    What a fabulous and rare post. Thank you for these images of Palmyra. I have no words to say to express my disappointment of the impending attack. I will be praying for the protection of this historic place
    Helenx

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  13. I always make a point of visiting World Heritage sites, and the possible loss of Palmyra is devastating. These terrorists are simple barbarians; they destroy but don't build anything. This city predates the Prophet Mohammed, who saw fit to leave these ancient ruins alone. Thankfully, much of the art from this part of the world has been moved to safety in other countries. Another reason why the Elgin Marbles are safer in Britain (and wouldn't exist today) had they been left to be destroyed in Greece.

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  14. Hope these magnificent places survive & the people too. They are living a nightmare. Sad thing is that there is no reasoning with these savages. That is what they are. No respect for humanity so there's no respect for history.

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  15. Jenny, your photo documentation of Palmyra is breathtaking, really astounding. I'm so glad that you were able to visit this historic place before impending disaster. It is heartbreaking to think that it could be destroyed by madmen. I hope that, by some miracle, the ISIS can be stopped (permanently).

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  16. Wow what an amazing experience that must have been, and you've captured everything so well on your photos. I could almost sense the quietness in the early shots. I do hope that these ruins are not destroyed. There are some terrible things going on in our world at the moment.

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  17. Thank you for sharing this. I will pray the ruins are unscathed. What breathtaking pictures.

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  18. Isis has launched a determined bid to destroy all aspects of the cultural heritage in Iraq and Syria - it is not Syrian and Iraq heritage only - it is international. The scale of the barbaric atrocities committed to both human life and ancient artefacts are monumental crimes of our time in what is supposed to be a civilised world.

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  19. Too beautiful to be destroyed, at least in my opinion.

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  20. Wonderful pictures, and as others have said, a beautiful tribute to Palmyra. Many years ago I was lucky enough to see the Buddahs of Bamiyan, which were later blown to bits by the Taliban. That made me so sad (as of course did their other atrocities to people) so I can sympathise with how you feel about Palmyra.

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  21. I know I let out a gasp and immediately felt very angry when I saw the report on the TV news yesterday. I can't find enough words to describe my feelings, my emotions. The senseless, barbaric actions of ISIS...in everything they do...is beyond me...my thinking of what is decent. They disgust me.

    Yes...I, too, am sickened to the depth of my stomach...and beyond if that was possible.

    Wonderful photos, Jenny...thanks for sharing. Let's hope ISIS don't have their misguided, arrogant way.

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  22. What an outstanding beautiful place.
    I am not sure if it is good or bad that you were able to see this wonderful place.
    Thank You so much for the wonderful photos.
    To be destroyed by religious, political perverts is just horrific.
    And it does look like Agatha Christie novel.

    cheers, parsnip

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  23. It literally makes me sick to hear of the damage ISIS and others like them have done to ancient treasures during their "cleansing" campaigns. In all fairness, I feel the same way about all of the atrocities done in the name of some religion down through the ages.

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  24. Thanks for sharing your beautiful photos with us! I hope that this site survives...or else all we will have left of this city in the desert is photos...

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  25. Your photos show a very beautiful area. It truly is stunning. My hopes are that its people will find relief from war and that these historial treasures will be saved. Thanks for posting this Jenny.

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  26. It is beyond my comprehension that such enduring marvels reminding us of our past should be under such threat. But then a great deal that humans do is beyond my comprehension. You are very fortunate to have seen the city although that does mean that you will feel its loss (should that happen) more than many of us who have not.

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  27. Oh Jenny, these photos are haunting. The light, the emptiness, the magnificence of those ruins that have withstood centuries of everything that could be thrown at them. How awful if they cannot withstand IS. I hope and pray they survive, as I hope and pray for Syria and the Syrians.

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  28. It is heartbreaking to think of places like this flattened to the ground. These photos are incredible -- and that light! You always hear (and experience) how light changes things but this is so obvious and remarkable. I think Star Wars was filmed in Tunisia but the territory looks much the same, almost science-fiction when you look at some of the land, then deep history a those buildings, arches and ruins.

    It must break your heart as a traveler, and particularly one who has enjoyed a remarkable experience in a place such as this, to see it so threatened. My heart aches for those in the Middle East. I hope your kind restauranteur is all right.

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  29. Thank you very much for these photos. I think it's unimaginable for some people to see what ISIS is doing and what they stand for.

    I hope they don't get hold of Palmyra.

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  30. Wonderful photos. Sad about the situation in Syria. Glad Britain escaped the situation we got into in Sweden after our last election back in the autumn (government without majority in the parliament).

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  31. What a beautiful city! I seem to remember some of these photos, but not all of them.

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  32. It is heartbreaking to know that ISIS is ruining so much that is historic. Thank you for sharing these photographs.

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  33. Understanding what is going on and the destruction for destruction's sake is almost impossible to comprehend. This situation is getting worse and worse.

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  34. It looks otherworldly. How lucky that you had a chance to visit during a calm spell.

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  35. How fabulous....looks like an extraordinaary place....hope they are safe....

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  36. These days that Palmira is endangered by war blissful one realizes wonderland, how sad that such a stunning place to be lost forever. Your beautiful photo essay. A huge hug my dear friend.

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  37. I can see why you're so concerned that these beautiful remains don't get bulldozed by mindless barbarians. Bulldozing would serve no purpose whatever, except to say "we're in control". The way the light changes in your photos is fascinating.

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  38. Thank you for the breathtaking photos. I'm saddened to think buildings may be gone in the future. I am in fact saddened by a whole range of activities in that part of the world. I'm so happy you were able to see it and have such great memories of your trip.

    Darla

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  39. Thank you for sharing your wonderful pics with us Jenny - I do so hope Palmira is safe/saved.
    The world is a very worrying place.
    Anna :o]

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  40. Thankyou so much for sharing I really enjoyed my virtual visit to Palmira this evening.

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  41. It sickens me to see any historical site destroyed. So much is lost.

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  42. I felt so sad and angry when I saw the news yesterday.

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  43. Your prediction became sadly a reality. Philistines with guns, the worst possible combination. Thanks for your post.

    Greetings from London.

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  44. Another great post about Palmyra, Jenny. I understand why you felt urged from inside to post this. I do hope these photos won’t become reminder of the Palmyra ruins. Things related to ISIS is a total mess and heart-wrenching. Something must be done on the inhumanity of IS urgently, but bombing must have killed many other innocent people. Thank you for sharing.

    Yoko

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  45. Thank you to everyone who posted responses to this piece about Palmyra. The news doesn't look good but I know that there is nothing I can do about it so we can only hope for the best.

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  46. Jenny, I found this very moving; wonderful images and perfect descriptions. Having read ‘Last Act in Palmyra’ by Lindsey Davis, I was especially interested.

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  47. Oh no, I hope they don't get there to destroy such an absolutely amazing site. I am fascinated by historical relics and archaeological sites too. This place should stand the same for more thousand years to come. Let it vanish alone naturally but not by humans. :(

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  48. Such unbearable human suffering and destruction of ancient history and art is difficult to comprehend. The way Syrian events during these past few years were mishandled is what politicians say helped all this havoc to unfold. The cruel joke (if you can call it that) is that even a picture is a treasure when nothing else is left.

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