In May 2015, ISIS seized the city of Palmyra, the UNESCO World Heritage Site that lies in the Syrian Desert 215km north east of the capital Damascus. Another World Heritage Site the city of Hatra in northern Iraq has already become a casualty of the fanatical group. The question is; will ISIS destroy ancient Palmyra?
The strategic importance of the archeological site that nestles in an oasis, surrounded by thousands of palm trees, and astride the ancient caravan route wasn’t lost on its modern attackers. The extremist Islamic group identifying its importance as the Greeks and Romans had done before them. Acknowledging the fact that the city held the key to the heart of Syria, the Levant and the Mediterranean beyond.
Islamic extremist groups have a record of destroying artifacts that don’t fit with their radical narrative. The empty recesses in Bamiyan, Afghanistan that used to hold giant statues of Buddha, testament to their fanatical views. But there is a new story emerging from Iraq and Syria that is just as destructive, but far more lucrative. The archeological sites are being stripped of their ancient relics which are then sold on the black market, with the money recouped – just like that of the sale of oil – being used to fund the new caliphate.
My love of Palmyra started in 2008, while learning Arabic in Damascus I visited this ancient wonder for the day. The shawarma I’d had the night before had made me violently ill, but there was no way I was missing this trip. I managed to pull myself out of bed and suffered badly on the long four hour trip. But when the taxi crested the hill and revealed the blanket of palm trees surrounding the ruined city, my pain and suffering melted away.
Syria is incredibly rich with un-spoilt archeological sites, and Palmyra to my mind is the jewel in the crown. I would admit that it’s no Pompeii or Herculaneum, but for me it will always be a special place, for it was in Palmyra as I watched the sun sink behind the horizon, its last rays silhouetting the line of ancient columns an amazing idea rushed into my head. This idea blossomed into a story, the story becoming my first novel, Damascus Road. It will be released later this year, the first chapters of which will be available free on my website in September 2015.
So what is in store for this most unique of historical sites? The future certainly looks grim. The threat of destruction, vandalism and looting a growing reality. I have no answer. Like the rest of you I’m powerless to stop the violence. What I can do however is to highlight the plight of this ancient city and hope that if enough people are talking about this most wondrous of locations, that it just might be saved for future generations to enjoy.
For more pictures of Palmyra aswell as many other intersting locations go to my flickr account.