Palmyra

An oasis on the road between orient and occident.

Rmn-Grand Palais

Sites éternels, Grand Palais

Sites éternels. Carte de situation du site archéologique de Palmyre, en Syrie (2016)Rmn-Grand Palais

Palmyra is an oasis in the Syrian desert, 210km north-east of Damascus.

Sites éternels. Palmyre, vue aérienne du sanctuaire du dieu Bêl, aujourd'hui (2016-04) by DGAM & ICONEMRmn-Grand Palais

At a crossroads of civilizations

The oasis of Tadmor, Latin name Palmyra ("the oasis of palm trees") is a very ancient trading post for caravans dating back to the second millennium BCE. In the first century CE,the oasis became part of the Roman Empire. This marked the beginning of a period of great prosperity that would last for three centuries. Indeed, situated halfway between the Euphrates and the Mediterranean, it was on the route linking the East and West. Palmyra therefore became the intermediary through which the Roman empire acquired exotic merchandise: gulf pearls, incense and indigo from Yemen, spices from India, and silks from China. 

Sites éternels. Temple de Bêl reconstitué (2016-04)Rmn-Grand Palais

The first mention of Palmyra in Greco-Roman texts dates from 41 BCE. After joining the Roman Empire in the first century CE, its most important monument, the temple of Bel was inaugurated in 34 CE.

L'empereur Caracalla (empereur de 211 - 217 après J.-C.), œuvre datée entre 212 - 215 après J.-C. by Anonyme, 212-215 ap. J.-C.Original Source: Agence photo Rmn-Grand Palais

A roman colony

In 211, the Emperor Caracalla made Palmyra a Roman colony, but from 235 onward Rome's influence relaxed, to the benefit of the great families of Palmyra. And so, in 258, Septimius Odaenathus took power in Palmyra. On his death in 266-267, power fell to his wife Zenobia (240-274 CE) who seized control of Syria, Egypt and other provinces of Asia Minor. However, in 272, Emperor Aurelian decided to fight his enemies and conquered Palmyra. Zenobia was captured and taken to Rome. Palmyra would no longer be a great power.

Sites éternels. Les Ruines de Palmyre, autrement dite "Tedmor au désert". (1753) by Dessin et gravure, J.P. Borra; auteur du texte de l'ouvrage dont est extrait la gravure : Robert WoodOriginal Source: lien vers fonds Agence Rmn-GP

Rediscovery

The site of Palmyra was visited in 1691 by English merchants accompanied by the Reverend William Halifax. In 1695, Halifax published a description of the site accompanied by drawings with the title: A Relation of the Voyage from Aleppo to Palmyra. In 1751, the Englishman Robert Wood described it in great detail in his work The Ruins of Palmyra, published in 1753. The first real excavations were not carried out until 1929, first by France, then by Switzerland between 1945 and 1960, and then by Poland.

A monumental architecture

The city was organized around the splendid 1100 meter long Grand Colonnade.

The perpendicular streets were also lined by columns..

Sites éternels. Le Temple de Bêl by Félix Bonfils (1831-1885)Rmn-Grand Palais

The main public monuments were the Temple of Bel...

Sites éternels. Le Temple de Baalshamin (1900/1920) by Matson (G. Eric and Edith)Original Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

...and the Temple of Baalshamin,...
 

Sites éternels. Camp du Diocletien. Vue générale à travers l'escalier depuis l'est. 1899-1900 (1899/1900) by Howard Crosby Butler (1872-1922)Rmn-Grand Palais

... Diocletian's camp and thermal baths, the Agora and the theater.
Beyond the fortified walls, there are remains of a Roman aqueduct and extensive necropolises. Palmyra, a city at the crossroads of several cultures, combined Greco-Roman architecture with local traditions.

Sites éternels. Palmyre, Temple de Bêl. Façade Est montrant la colonnade et le péristyle. (1920/1933) by Matson (G. Eric and Edith)Rmn-Grand Palais

The temple of Bel

Inaugurated in 32 CE, the Temple of Bel was one of the most important sanctuaries of the Roman Orient.

Sites éternels. Vue aérienne par drone du sanctuaire de Bêl, Palmyre, Syrie (2016) by DGAM and ICONEMRmn-Grand Palais

Its walls were 210 meters long and 205 meters wide. 375 eighteen-meter-high columns surrounded the temple.

Site éternels. Restitution du temple de Bêl avant et après destruction (2016) by Iconem & DGAMOriginal Source: Iconem

A magnificent podium, a monumental staircase and column consoles sculpted with a relief frieze led to the sanctuary which was 70 meters long and 40 meters across the front.
The decorated beams were carved with, among other things, caravans, planets, and stars.
 

Monument aux dieux Bêl, Ba'alsâmin, Yarhibôl et 'Aglibôl (0121) by AnonymeRmn-Grand Palais

The God Bel

The god Bel was the primary guardian of the city of Babylon. He had been a very important god in Mesopotamia up until that time. His full name was Bel-Marduk. Bel was a sort of title that became the name by which he was known in Palmyra.

Sites éternels. Le Temple de Baalshamin (1900/1920) by Matson (G. Eric and Edith)Original Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

The temple of Baalshamin

Built in the year 17 BCE, or before Tadmor's integration into the Roman Empire, the Temple of Baalshamin was dedicated to the eponymous god, the master of the skies who brought rain and fertility. In 130 CE, Emperor Hadrian ordered that it be made more beautiful.

Its architecture therefore reflects both Palmyrene and Greco-Roman influences.

Sites éternels. Palmyre, vue aérienne du sanctuaire du dieu Bêl, aujourd'hui (2016-04) by DGAM & ICONEMRmn-Grand Palais

The site was occupied by Islamic State in 2015. Their men murdered Khaled-el-Asad, Palmyra's retired chief of antiquities, and destroyed the temples of Bel and Baalshamin, the Arch of Triumph and the funerary towers.

Le site de Palmyre (2016) by Iconem & DGAMRmn-Grand Palais

The site of Palmyra was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980. Since 2015, it has been included on the List of World Heritage in Danger.

Sites éternels. Palmyre, vue aérienne du sanctuaire du dieu Bêl, aujourd'hui (2016-04) by DGAM & ICONEMRmn-Grand Palais

Credits: Story

We would like to thank all the people who have contributed to the construction of this journey through "Eternal Sites" and those who have given us valuable time and information as well as permission to reproduce their documentation.

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