An aerial view taken in 2009 shows Palmyra’s impressive amphitheater. Immediately behind it is the 3,600-foot long colonnade that welcomed visitors to the city. (Christophe Charon / AFP/Getty Images)
“The City that Makes Rome Blush: Five Reasons Why Palmyera’s Ruins Are So Important,” by Caroline Miranda (what a name!) of the Los Angeles Times, wrote a fascinating piece in the days leading up to the ancient Syrian city’s capture by ISIS. Included is a video by the BBC that shows some of the Roman ruins there.
ISIS apparently has not begun destroying it yet, and the civilized world hopes that it will not. UNESCO officials visited the World Heritage Site before ISIS troops arrived to call for its protection, to hope that violence (military or religious) will not be wreaked upon it.
Here is a quote from Miranda that sums up Palmyra’s allure:
“It makes Rome blush,” says Stephennie Mulder, an archaeologist and professor of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. “When you approach the site, it rises out of the desert like some sort of a mirage out of a fairy tale.”
Palmyrenes refer to their home lovingly as “the bride of the desert.”
Detail of Palmyrene arch. (BBC)
The rationale for this destruction by ISIS of ancient ruins is difficult for Westerners to parse. ISIS apparently wants to destroy any vestige of civilization that existed before the rise of Islam in the Middle Ages. This reason may be admixed with notions of idolatry. But let’s not heap all the blame on ISIS. The Saudi royal family is apparently behind that society’s destruction of Mecca under the heel of modern architecture – for similar reasons.
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.
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“See Palmyra before I die?”
Inexplicable, and yet the supposedly responsible Sunnis have been getting away with this sort of thing for years, but since it’s in their own backyard… and not, um, Christian…
David, Thank you for sharing this outstanding article with the compelling photos. So sad. The utter depravity of this group. Michael Behrendt