Onto the firmly beaten track
21.08.2009 - 22.08.2009
After breaking down in the desert, we eventually got to Palmyra, which has been a tourist destination for 200 years. Tourism is the only industry there and needless to say were immedeately shafted. Firstly, a rediculously expensive taxi (there were no other transport options), then an elevated hotel rate as the taxi driver collected his commission. Well, actually it was still dirt cheap, but not for Syria.
Our arrival also coincided with the start of Ramadan, the muslim month of fasting, which has so far turned out to be pretty lame. As an procimation of faith, they all give up eating, drinking and smoking during the daylight hours, and consequently give you evil looks if you tempt them by doing any of these in public. As we're clearly not muslims and thus not expected to fast, but the problem is that many shops, cafes and restaurants are closed as either the owners can't even drink during the day, as well as the fact that none of their usual clientelle would go anyway. One benefit is that the touts are too lacking in energy to bother the tourists.
Palmyra is an ancient oasis town situated along the Silk Road, and has had a very colourful history in that it was independent from the Roman and Persian empires (it was a buffer zone in between) for a long time, allowing it's own unique culture to flourish, until the Romans took it over. This led to an influx of even more wealth and many of the ruins date from then.
The ruins themselves give you an insight into the look and size of the ancient city, but the busloads of tourists are sort of off putting, as are the ticket prices coupled with their direct refusal to accept our student cards. If you ever go, get an international student card', or more like a Syrian monuments discount card. Anyway, we managed to sneak into the main attraction, the mostly standing Temple of Bel (a Palmyaeran deity), by climbing over the wall at the back, which was pretty badass.
As with many of the ruins on Syria from this era, it's very impressive, and great if you love huge columns. Heh. The main collonnade is still mostly intact and spans almost 2 kilometers. The Valley of the Tombs nearby is also fairly impressive, and is filled with mysterious large rectangular structures, which we clambered about for a while. Then an Arab castle, to which we had to hike up a hill in the 50 degree desert heat. Situated in the middle of the desert, the heat was almost unbearable, and we had to sit out the hottest parts of the day in the shade, unable to move.
Soon enough, we beat the heat by getting on a bus to Damascus.