Remembering Palmyra

The recent  torture and execution of the 82 year old archeologist and curator Khaled al-Assad, followed by the destruction of one of the temples  at Palmyra are devastating blows to the archeological heritage of Syria. Palmyra was such a magnificent site when we visited in 2011, a fascinating Roman outpost on the edge of the desert. It really gave us a sense for the breadth of Roman power and the interesting syncretism in both decoration and religious rituals which could be found on the margins of the Empire. 

Given the changes since 2011, our visit has become a kind of mystical illusions, as if I can't really believe we were there before this entire tragedy. I often think of all the Syrians we met and I hope they've found safety and refugee - but I know most of them have not.
I blogged about our trip to Syria, including Palmyra, when we returned home - just as the demonstrations against Bashar al-Assad were beginning. At the time, perhaps naively, we had no sense for how quickly things could unravel. It's still hard to imagine all that has happened since then, and how many millions have been displaced.
Today all I can do is share the images of what we saw, the beauty and majesty of a heritage that has been preserved for two millennia. This is the city that Khaled al-Assad worked to preserve and restore, and my pictures are all I can offer in homage to the man to worked for more than forty years as the head of antiquities in Palmyra.
In the West, I sometimes feel we fetishize certain things above people, hence we hear all about destruction in Palmyra or a lion that's shot in Zimbabwe. We shouldn't separate these questions from the wider human concern. In Syria,  the destruction at Palmyra is heartbreaking but hopefully it will draw our attention to the human tragedy. Hopefully, it can help us humanize  refugees,  to see them as neighbors  seeking refugee from loss, chaos and danger. In 2011, we encountered such welcome and hospitality in Syria, I only wish the Syrians could rely on all of us for the same.
This wonderful local guide showed me around the Temple of Baal. He had spent time at university in the former Yugoslavia and spoke Serbo-Croatian. Unfortunately, even then there weren't too many tourists from that part of the world! I wonder where he is now?


Jennie said…
Thank you for sharing your gorgeous images and reflections, not only about this tragic loss to history, archaeology, and culture, but also your call to treat refugees from Syria (and elsewhere) with the kind of comfort and care they showed you during your visit there. May your wish come to fruition.
Thanks Jennie, just when I think the news from Syria couldn't get worse I read about what's happening in Europe.
It seems the destruction continues and satellite imagery shows they have destroyed the large temple of Baal. You can see me admiring it with the guide above.