Some 100kms north of Palmyra, as you head across the desert, you see an ancient fort / palace appear out of the heat haze.
Qaser el-Heir el-Sharqi dates from 720 AD or 110 years after the birth of the Prophet Mohammed and is in the middle of nowhere. It was built as part of an eastern defensive chain protecting the west from the hordes in the east and also to act as a trading post.
The nearest water source is about 6 kms away and in an ancient feat of engineering, water was piped underground to the complex.
This site is in fact, two palaces. A large one (shown above) for the general populous and a smaller one (shown below) for the man in charge who did not want to live with the minions. In between the palaces is a small minaret (just visible on the left of the picture).
His palace was a two storey affair of some considerable size.
Some of the original wall decorations are still visible in the portico over the entrance.
It was eventually destroyed by one of the numerous groups rampaging through the area a few hundred years after it was built.
A hundred kms or so further on, closer to the Euphrates is yet another ruin: “Rasafa” (dating from Assyrian times) which this time is a complete town / fort. This is so large (1.9 km around the outside) that you cannot get one photograph showing the whole city.
There is one main gate on each side of the walls
with a central street running into the town behind the gate
much of the vaulting beneath the main walls still exists, the above picture shows how long the walls are.
Strangely, there is no local water supply near the town and so the arrangement was that donkeys would bring water from the Euphrates River (some 25 kms away) and fill underground cisterns such as that above. We had much debate about how many donkeys does it take to fill a tank!
In the centre of the town are three churches dating from the 6th century.
This one is the Basilica of St Sergius (a roman soldier who converted to Christianity and was executed for refusing to perform sacrifices to Jupiter) which whilst in ruins, still has some of the original fine and delicate carving showing.
The stone used was Quartz which is very hard to carve neatly because it splinters easily..
The structure of the vaulting over an alter is clearly visible with the whole of the roof structure neatly fitting together with the king stone showing at the top of the picture – take this one stone away and the whole roof falls in. Also some of the wall paintings are still visible.
This site suffers from artefact robbery as do most sites out here. Local scavengers (in this case, small boys) dig around for anything they can sell to visitors such as these ancient coins, some of which are in very good condition.
And so we end our day with Pat writing a postcard to Sam whilst sitting in a cafe on the bank of the Euphrates watching it slowly wend its way down through Mesopotamia, past Babylon, Ur and Nineveh on its way to its confluence with the Tigris and seeing live on a large LCD TV, New Zealand equalising in the 92nd minute to force a draw in that world cup match. It can be a small world.