Perspiring in Palmyra

The monumental arch in the eastern section of Palmyra's colonnade. (Wikipedia)

The monumental arch in the eastern section of Palmyra’s colonnade. (Wikipedia)

The Islamic State has entered Palmyra, site of Roman ruins in war-torn Syria. ISIS has destroyed several famous archeological sites in its brutal quest for a caliphate, mostly so far in Iraq. Its forces have been in Palmyra for only a day or so and there is no evidence yet that its destruction is preordained, let alone under way.

Here is a stray paragraph from the entry on Palmyra in Wikipedia that gives a flavor of its ancient puissance:

Bracket on a column of Palmyra's Grand Colonnade.

Bracket on a column of Palmyra’s Grand Colonnade.

In 129, Palmyra was visited by emperor Hadrian, who named it Hadriane Palmyra and granted it the status of a free city,[46][47] Hadrian promoted Hellenism throughout the empire,[48] and Palmyra’s urban expansion was modeled on the Greek fashion,[48] leading to many new projects, including the theatre, the colonnade and the temple of Nabu.[48] The Roman authority in the city was reinforced in 167, when the garrison Ala I Thracum Herculiana was moved to Palmyra.[49]

It has been said that expressions of horror in the West can only deepen Palmyra’s jeopardy. I hope not. Although there has been interest in this blog, and especially in my post “Kismet, but not in Mecca,” from some Islamic (not Islamicist, I hope) people online, I doubt that word of this post is likely to reach ISIS headquarters.

Some have called for U.S. air strikes to drive off ISIS troops. I am sympathetic to that call but doubt the prospect of its efficacy. Boots on the ground would be required. America has already abandoned the Mideast to its fate and its own devices – a sad turn of affairs. This destruction of history along the Fertile Crescent may be among the most lethally benign of its real-world policy blowbacks – even though it is among the most painful to civilized people, and destructive to mankind’s understanding of itself.

In all likelihood, Palmyra and who knows how many of history’s earliest shrines are at the mercy of a merciless band of cutthroats. What is to be done beyond prayer? It’s hard to say.

About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy,, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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4 Responses to Perspiring in Palmyra

  1. Anonymous says:

    This is terrible and very upsetting. Seems like someone should do something! Curators unite!!


  2. I certainly hope my agreement with that sentiment was adequately conveyed in my post!


  3. David Andreozzi AIA says:

    I hate to compare the loss of architecture to the loss of blood in the streets (there is no comparison)… but the thought of losing this connection to our cultural history is still horrifying.


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