Much of the so-called "fertile crescent" looks pretty dry like this desert area on the road from Damascus to the oasis of Palmyra.
Sharia Al-Quwatli, the main street of Palmyra, was just a dirt track a couple of decades ago before tourists became interested in the nearby 2nd century ruins .
The oasis called Afqa was an Assyrian caravan town for 1000 years before becoming an important Greek outpost. After Rome invaded Syria in the first century Tadmor (city of date trees), prospered as her camel caravans extended roman trade eastward to the Euphrates and Tigris.
In 266 AD, the ambitious Queen Zenobia took control of much of Syria until Aurelian defeated her armies in 271 and razed her capital two years later. The wall in the photo was part of Tadmor's defences in Zenobia's time.
Around 295, Diocletian installed a roman camp nearby and Palmyra (city of palms), went into decline. It fell to the Muslims in 634 and was completely destroyed by an earthquake in 1089. Much later, the Arabs built the 17th century "Qala'at ibn Maan" fort that can be seen on the background hilltop.
After crossing Zenobia's wall, one reaches the temple of Baal Shamin next to the expensive Zenobia Hotel within the site (I stayed at the more modest Baal Shamin hotel in town).
Further south stands this great arch at the eastern end of a kilometre long colonnaded avenue that was the centre of Palmyra.
West of the arch, past the vestiges of Diocletian's baths and of a small temple, one comes upon the well conserved roman theatre shown in this panorama assembled from three separate photos.
Still further west stands this tetrapylon at a crossroad leading south to the agora (market) and north to the Baal Shamin temple shown above.
This is the agora (market).
The colonnaded avenue continues west towards the remains of Diocletian's camp and the Arab hilltop castle.
Here is another view of the colonnade.
In the far distance, past the roman camp stand these strange funerary towers on Yemliko hill. I did not go that far. The photo is grainy because it was expanded from a small portion of a long distance shot.
East of the arch shown above, stands the jewel of Palmyra, a great temple complex dedicated to the god Bel. This model in the local museum shows what it must have looked like when still intact.
The large compound, 200 m x 200 m, was too big to take without a wide angle lens so I assembled this panorama from two separate pictures.
A tall, roofed over, double colonnade ran all the way around the walls on the Inside of the compound.
And in the centre stood this great classical temple. Its peristyle and most of its colonnades are gone but the cella is still standing.
And so is part of the colonnade on the back (eastern), side.
Inside, the cella holds two altars at its northern and southern ends. Naturally, the roof has disappeared a long time ago.
Below on the left, a picture of me in the entrance of the cella and on the right, a shot with Mohammed Ahmed, the remarkable young owner of the Baal Shamin Hotel. I say remarkable because I was impressed by his uncommon intelligence and enjoyed his wise but unpretentious remarks on life and world affairs.
And finally, before moving on to Hama, here is a shot of some happy kids in front of the Palmyra Museum.