Monday, 14 June 2010

Palmyra and hawkers

Wherever you go in Syria, you are likely to meet a persistent sales patter from some of the most determined hawkers we have met outside of Egypt.

Van in front of coach

On most occasions, whenever our coach stops to let us off to see something, go to the toilet or simply stretch our legs, a car / van quickly appears and (as in this case) parks very close to the front of the coach so that whatever it is selling can be shown (in this case some rather dodgy dates).

Climbing rocks

The fact that we were sitting on the top of a hill watching the sunset was not going to stop this hawker coming up the hill and offering us again what he had offered as we passed him at the bottom of the hill.

Hawkers following tourists

It is not unusual for a hawker to follow you around a historical site on their motorbike, stopping whenever you are listening to an explanation and offering you the chance to reconsider your earlier decision not to buy whatever they are offering.

They usually sell with a certain amount of humour and enjoy the bartering process. We accept that whatever the price we pay, it will be more than that paid by a local – as a rule of thumb, we try to finish the barter process paying 60% of the original asking price. It is fatal to show too much interest, if you do you are seen as an easy sell and the asking price might not drop at all.

In many of the towns, shop owners are very keen to get you into their shops even if the products are obviously of no interest to you. Never-the-less, they are always willing to spend time explaining their wares even if no sale is likely to take place. It has been a delight to learn about soap, spices and silks etc from some of the shop owners in the Syrian Souks.




Some 250 kms north west of Damascus on the road to Iraq lies one of the archaeological wonders of the world which has long been on our visit list. On the way there, it is brought home to us how close we are to Iraq, not only by the Road Signs

Road to Baghdad 2 

Road to Baghdad 1

but also by the name of the Road House “The Baghdad Cafe” which we stop at for a toilet break and coffee.

Baghdad Cafe

Never-the-less, we have always felt safe.

Palmyra (historical name Tadmor) is large – the photo below was taken from about 10 kms away and shows the extent of much of the city walls

Palmyra Site

It was built here because of an Oasis and the fact that it was on a cross roads for travellers from the far east through to the middle east. Its wealth came from taxes charged, anything up to 25% of the value of the goods passing through. If you are interested in its history and dates, then Google. It has been said that it was first built by King Solomon and certainly dates from around then. It was wealthy before the Romans came on the scene and eventually captured Queen Zenobia and took her back to Rome supposedly in “chains made from gold”.

A slightly closer photo shows the central temple and the famous colonnaded street .

Palmyra 1  

In the centre of Palmyra is the huge temple of Ba'al

Temple of Baal

It is heyday, it was a colourful building, the colours have been

What the temple looked like

determined from fragments of colour which still exist on some of the

Freeze Remnant

Freeze Colour

remnants. Inside the temple are two side altars (the temple was also

 Baal Temple Roof Carving

used as a church later on). The beauty of the ceiling

Baal Temple Roof Colours

and the privilege of seeing it some 2000 years after it was carved are both hard to express. All of the pillars in the temple (and most of those

Acanthus Boss

elsewhere on the site) have bosses decorated with carved Acanthus Leaves. The temple itself is massive showing how wealthy the city was.

Massive Temple Site

Other highlights of this amazing city are the Theatre


which although parts of it have been extensively restored, shows exactly how it originally appeared.

Theatre 1

Of course it had perfect acoustics and it is estimated that it could seat around 3000 people

Hot Travellers

including these two explorers who were both hot and tired having walked along its famous colonnaded road.

Palmyra Columned Road

Much of the city was decorated with statues or wall reliefs of its citizens. The best were inside the city museum (which of course we were not allowed to photograph) but this one below, which was outside

Carved Image

shows the quality of the images.

Outside of town is an interesting example of ancient private storage facilities – a sort of “Big Yellow Box Warehouse” of 100 BC.

Burial Tower Valley

There is a valley near the city which is full of towers, some 60 have

Burial Towers

Burial Tower

been discovered so far.  The best of them has been restored. Its use was a storage place for coffins. Upon death, a space would be rented for 5, 10 or 15 years and the coffins stacked inside the warehouse in niches on the various floors.

Burial Spaces

The coffins were stacked some 8 high and a typical coffin storage warehouse would store some 400 coffins. Inside they were richly decorated as can be seen from this ceiling fragment.

Decorated Coffin Ceiling

At the end of a long, hot day, the sun sets over the desert and our

Sunset over the dessert

travellers go to bed.

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