Palmyra or Tudmor lies at Homs
state, 155 kilometers east of Homs city and 210 kilometers northeast
of Damascus . 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 Queen Zenobia.
Palmyra 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
The ‘oasis’, as it is sometimes called, is located near a hot-water spring
called Afqa. Palmyra was an ideal halt for the caravans moving between Iraq
and al-Sham (present-day Syria, Lebanon and Jordan), trading in silk from
China to the Mediterranean.
This strategic location made Tudmor (palmyra) 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 Palmyra’s trade.
When Tudmor was fully occupied by the Romans under Tiberius, Augustus'
successor and was integrated into the Province of Syria 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 Palmyra, he declared her a ‘free
city’; in return, the people of Tudmor gratefully called their city
‘Adrianapalmyra’. When the Severus emperors, who were originally Syrian (Homs),
came to rule Palmyra, 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 Palmyra 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 Palmyra for help. The leader Septimus Odeinat (Odenathus)
became quite favored by Rome and in 256/7 was appointed by the Emperor
Valerian as Consul and Governor of the province of Syria Phoenice which
Palmyra 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.
Palmyra's greatest days however were after the murder of Odeinat, when his
wife Zenobia started ruling Palmyra on behalf of her son Vaballath.
Zanobia, women renowned for her exceptionally strong character, took
power. She 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
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 Syria, 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 Palmyra until it fell in 274.
Queen Zenobia was defeated and taken captive to Rome, fettered in chain
The detiny of the great kingdom of Palmyra 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.
A tour among the ruins, which cover an area of 6 square kilometers,
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 amphitheater, the baths, the ‘Straight
Street’, the Congress Council and the Cemeteries.
Close to Palmyra, on a nearby hill, stands the citadel of
Fakhredin Al Maany(17th century). The museum of Palmyra (The
Tudmor museum) is rich in art of different periods, sculpture, mosaic, gold,
bronze and pottery. It also exhibits the folklore of Palmyra and the Syrian
desert. The spring of Afqa in Palmyra 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.