An­cient Syr­ian city Palmyra falls into hands of IS

The China Post - - ARTS -

Palmyra, the an­cient Syr­ian city that has fallen to the Is­lamic State ji­hadist group, has with­stood the last 2,000 years with its im­mac­u­late tem­ples and colon­naded streets.

Listed as a UNESCO world her­itage site, the “pearl of the desert” is a well-pre­served oa­sis 210 kilo­me­ters north­east of Damascus.

Palmyra, which means City of Palms, is known in Syria as Tad­mor, or City of Dates.

Its name first ap­peared on a tablet in the 19th cen­tury B.C. as a stop­ping point for car­a­vans trav­el­ing on the Silk Road and be­tween the Gulf and the Mediter­ranean.

But it was dur­ing the Ro­man Em­pire — be­gin­ning in the first cen­tury B.C. and last­ing another 400 years — that Palmyra rose to promi­nence.

Though sur­rounded by desert dunes, Palmyra de­vel­oped into a lux­u­ri­ous me­trop­o­lis thanks to the trade of spices, per­fumes, silk and ivory from the east, and stat­ues and glass­work from Phoeni­cia.

In the year A.D. 129, Ro­man em­peror Hadrian de­clared Palmyra a “free city” within his em­pire. Dur­ing the rest of the cen­tury, its fa­mous tem­ples — in­clud­ing the Agora and the tem­ple honor­ing Bel (Baal) — were built.

Be­fore the ar­rival of Chris­tian­ity in the sec­ond cen­tury, Palmyra wor­shipped the trin­ity of the Baby­lo­nian god Bel, as well Yarhi­bol (the sun) and Agli­bol (the moon).

As the Ro­man Em­pire faced in­ter­nal po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity in the third cen­tury, Palmyra took the op­por­tu­nity to de­clare its in­de­pen­dence.

Palmyrans beat back the Ro- mans in the west and Per­sian forces in the east in a re­volt led by Zeno­bia, who then be­came queen.

By 270, Zeno­bia had con­quered all of Syria and parts of Egypt, and had ar­rived at Asia Mi­nor’s doorstep.

But when Ro­man Em­peror Aure­lian re­took the city, the pow­er­ful queen was taken back to Rome and Palmyra be­gan to de­cline in promi­nence.

Be­fore Syria’s cri­sis be­gan in March 2011, more than 150,000 tourists vis­ited Palmyra ev­ery year, ad­mir­ing its beau­ti­ful stat­ues, over 1,000 col­umns, and for­mi­da­ble ne­crop­o­lis of over 500 tombs.

Palmyra’s rich­est res­i­dents had con­structed and sump­tu­ously dec­o­rated these mon­u­ments to the dead, some of which have been re­cently looted.

Palmyra bears scars of Syria’s on­go­ing war: clashes be­tween armed rebels and gov­ern­ment forces in 2013 left col­lapsed col­umns and stat­ues in their wake.

Hun­dreds of stat­ues and ar­ti­facts from Palmyra’s mu­seum were trans­ferred out of the city be­fore it fell to the Is­lamic State ji­hadist group, ac­cord­ing to Syria’s an­tiq­ui­ties chief Mamoun Ab­dulka­rim.

But many oth­ers — in­clud­ing mas­sive tombs — could not be moved.

Un­til IS mil­i­tants blew up the an­cient tem­ple of Baal Shamin on Sun­day, most of Palmyra’s fa­mous sites had been left in tact.

There were, how­ever, re­ports that IS had mined them and the group re­port­edly de­stroyed a fa­mous statue of a lion out­side the city’s mu­seum.

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