The Islamic State turns its attention to Palmyra

The Islamic State turns its attention to Palmyra

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The ancient city of Palmyra is in danger. The guerrillas of the Islamic State have taken full control of the ancient city of Palmyra and an attack is feared that could seriously damage this World Heritage city.

Palmyra is the last site where it was thought to find a forest of stones, columns and arches. Travelers in the 17th or 18th century were stunned when they discovered what they saw: a heap of ruins in the middle of the Syrian desert, halfway between the Mediterranean and the Euphrates Valley.

However, for any visitor the key to the prosperity of this enclave is apparent: the ancient city of Palmyra is situated on the edge of an oasis with palm trees and gardens, being a place to replenish water from the trade routes that headed east and in fact, its name is related to the palm trees that dominate the area.

History of Palmira.

Palmyra once held a very important place in the Middle East. From modest beginnings in the 1st century, Palmyra gradually emerged as a very important city under the patronage of Rome until the city's rulers challenged Roman power and created an empire of their own from Turkey to Egypt.

The history of the queen Zenobia, who faced the Roman Emperor Aurelian, is well known to all, but It is less known that Palmyra also fought another powerful empire, the Sassanid. During the 3rd century, when the Sassanids invaded the Roman Empire and captured the Emperor Valentinian, it was the city of Palmyra that defeated them and drove them back to the Euphrates. For many decades, Rome had to entrust power in the Middle East to the city of Palmyra due to the loss of strength of its influence in this area.

Palmyra is very different from other cities of the Roman Empire, is unique both culturally and artistically speaking. In Palmyra, a class of merchants controlled the political affairs of the city, unlike other cities where the landed elites dominate politics. That is why the city specialized in protecting the merchant caravans that crossed the desert.

[Tweet "Historically, #Palmira protected the caravans that crossed the desert."]

The city formed an important nucleus for a trade network. Archeology has also revealed that they had knowledge about the sea and it was not an unknown world. The inhabitants of Palmyra came down the Euphrates to the Gulf to engage in maritime trade with India and they even had some ports on the Red Sea of ​​Egypt. The wealth they generated thanks to the trade with exotic goods was invested in impressive architectural projects in their city, of which there are still well-preserved remains such as the Sanctuary of the Gods of Palmyra or the street of the colonnades or the theater.

What has been excavated from this city shows the vibrant Middle Eastern culture with its own identity stamp. The people of Palmyra were proud to adorn their buildings with writings in Semitic, Greek or Latin.

The city of Palmira developed its own artistic style It has great influences from classical architecture. The decorative patterns of the buildings and the clothing style of its inhabitants show extensive connections between west and east, where, for example, Chinese silks have been found adorning mummies in the tombs of inhabitants of the city.

It was about one cosmopolitan culture with an international vision, although little is known about this site compared to others. Only some parts of this site have been excavated and many of the archaeological sites are on the surface and not buried deep, which makes them quite vulnerable to looting.

Like other places in Syria, Palmyra has been looted during the present conflict. Following the trail left by ISIS in Iraq, where it has destroyed the cities of Nimrud, Hatra, Dur Sharrukin and tried to destroy Nineveh, there are reasons to fear the systematic looting and destruction of Palmyra if it falls into their hands. If this happens, one of the great chapters in the history of the Middle East and its culture will be another casualty in this tragic conflict.

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