Palmyra | Archeological

Key facts

► Palmyra is an ancient Semitic city, archaeological finds date back to the Neolithic period, and the city was first documented in the early second millennium BC and it reached the apex of its power in the 260 AD.

► In 2015, Palmyra came under the control of the ISIL, the Syrian Army retook the site only on March 2017. ISIL intention was to destroy any artifacts deemed ‘polytheistic’ destroying a number of buildings considerably and damaging the ancient site.

► According to the most up to date survey, the most damaged heritage landmarks are the Temple of Baal, the Temple of Baalshamin, the Arch of Victory, the Tetrapylon and part of a Roman theatre, along with other priceless artefacts.

► The UNESCO team examined 42 features and areas across the site. Of these 3 are totally destroyed, 7 are severe damage, 5 are moderate damage and at least 10 are possibly damaged.

Text from: UNESCO, Palmyra Site, Outstanding Universal Value, Brief synthesis

century BC

city first documented

An oasis in the Syrian desert, north-east of Damascus, Palmyra contains the monumental ruins of a great city that was one of the most important cultural centres of the ancient world. From the 1st to the 2nd century, the art and architecture of Palmyra, standing at the crossroads of several civilizations, married Graeco-Roman techniques with local traditions and Persian influences. First mentioned in the archives of Mari in the 2nd millennium BC, Palmyra was an established caravan oasis when it came under Roman control in the mid-first century AD as part of the Roman province of Syria. It grew steadily in importance as a city on the trade route linking Persia, India and China with the Roman Empire, marking the crossroads of several civilisations in the ancient world. A grand, colonnaded street of 1100 metres’ length forms the monumental axis of the city, which together with secondary colonnaded cross streets links the major public monuments including the Temple of Ba’al, Diocletian’s Camp, the Agora, Theatre, other temples and urban quarters. Architectural ornament including unique examples of funerary sculpture unites the forms of Greco-roman art with indigenous elements and Persian influences in a strongly original style. Outside the city’s walls are remains of a Roman aqueduct and immense necropolises.
Discovery of the ruined city by travelers in the 17th and 18th centuries resulted in its subsequent influence on architectural styles. The splendor of the ruins of Palmyra, rising out of the Syrian Desert north-east of Damascus is testament to the unique aesthetic achievement of a wealthy caravan oasis intermittently under the rule of Rome from the 1st to the 3rd century AD. The grand colonnade constitutes a characteristic example of a type of structure which represents a major artistic development. Recognition of the splendor of the ruins of Palmyra by travelers in the 17th and 18th centuries contributed greatly to the subsequent revival of classical architectural styles and urban design in the West. The grand monumental colonnaded street, open in the center with covered side passages, and subsidiary cross streets of similar design together with the major public buildings, form an outstanding illustration of architecture and urban layout at the peak of Rome’s expansion in and engagement with the East.

The great temple of Ba’al is considered one of the most important religious buildings of the 1st century AD in the East and of unique design. The carved sculptural treatment of the monumental archway through which the city is approached from the great temple is an outstanding example of Palmyrene art. The large scale funerary monuments outside the city walls in the area known as the Valley of the Tombs display distinctive decoration and construction methods. The key attributes display well their grandeur and splendor. However the setting is vulnerable to the encroachment of the adjacent town that could impact adversely on the way the ruins are perceived as an oasis closely related to their desert surroundings. The site was designated a national monument and is now protected by the National Antiquities law 222 as amended in 1999. A buffer zone was established in 2007 but has not yet been submitted to the World Heritage Committee. The regional strategic action plan currently under preparation is expected to provide guidelines to expand and redefine the site as a cultural landscape, with respect to the transitional zones around the archaeological site, the oasis and the city.

Heritage Landmarks
Completely Destroyed

Text from: UNITAR Satellite-based Damage Asessment to Historial Sites in Syria, 26 October 2014.

Heritage Landmarks
Severe Damage

Heritage Landmarks
Moderate Damage

After Isis first captured Palmyra in May 2015, a selection of 42 features and areas across the site were examined in the satellite imagery. Of these, 3 are totally destroyed, 7 are severe damage, 5 are moderate damage and at least 10 are possibly damaged. In their first raid militants rampaged through the city’s museums and ruins, blowing up the Temple of Baal, the Temple of Baalshamin and the Arch of Victory along with other priceless artefacts. The rest of the site shows moderate structural damage resulting from the conflict; much of the damage reported from shelling and gunfire is largely cosmetic and thus not visible. However, stone robbing has caused extensive damage in the Camp of Diocletian. A new dirt road, which in total is more than 3 km long, runs from the citadel across the archaeological area, specifically through the necropolises, but also damaging a section of the Roman walls on the site. It is edged by large earth embankments, in some places constructed from the archaeological soil of the site. Numerous other embankments have also been created using heavy machinery, particularly around the periphery. In January 2017 militants have destroyed also the Tetrapylon and part of a Roman theatre in the ancient city of Palmyra in the group’s latest attack on Syria’s heritage.