history is erased in the syrian desert


P1040162 croppedOver the almost five years writing this blog I have indicated many reasons why I think travel is important. One reason that I’ve had to add recently is one I never thought I would have to add. Sadly, now I add an additional reason, “you should travel now so that you can experience important global cultural heritage sites before they are destroyed by the same species who painstakingly created them in the first place.” I thought that humanity had evolved past this sort of cultural crime, but that is not the case, and it is getting worse by the year.

The Temple of Baalshamin was an ancient temple in the city of Palmyra, Syria, dedicated to the Canaanite deity Baalshamin. The temple’s earliest phase dates to the late second century B.C.E. It was rebuilt in early second century C.E., while the altar before the temple is dated to around twenty years prior. With the advent of Christianity in the fifth century C.E., the temple was converted to a church. Uncovered by Swiss archaeologists in 1950s, the temple was one of the most complete ancient structures in Palmyra. In 1980 the structure was designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. As of this month, it no longer exists. It is now a pile of rubble in the Syrian desert, and the only way to experience it now is via historical images.  I feel quite privileged that a confluence of travel factors came together several years ago and that at that time I was able to see this magnificent structure in person.

P1040170The temple was originally a part of an extensive precinct of three courtyards and represented a fusion of oriental and Roman architectural styles. The temple’s proportions and capitals were Roman, while the elements above the architrave and the side windows represented the oriental [Syrian] tradition. The highly stylized acanthus patterns of the Corinthian orders indicate an Egyptian influence. The temple had a six-column pronaos with traces of corbels and the cella. The side walls were decorated with pilasters. An inscription in Greek and Palmyrene on the column bracket that supported the bust of temple’s benefactor, Male, attested that the temple was built in 131 C.E. The inscription also mentioned the visit of Emperor Hadrian to Palmyra around 129 C.E. and read as follows: “The Senate and the people have made this statue to Male Agrippa, son of Yarhai, son of Lishamsh Raai, who, being secretary for a second time when the divine Hadrian came here, gave oil to the citizens, and to the troops and the strangers that came with him, taking care of their encampment. And he built the temple, the vestibule, and the entire decoration, at his own expense, to Baal Shamin and Durahlun.”

palmyra 1aGiven that this blog is meant to celebrate travel and highlight the gems of human culture that one can see around the world, I will not dignify this atrocity by posting the photos of the destruction that have been floating around social media, and will not comment on the circumstances surrounding its destruction.

I will end by simply stating my disappointment in humanity – aimed at all nations of the world – that this kind of atrocity, one of many, is allowed to continue while as a global culture we celebrate the lowest common denominator of what humanity has to offer.  Sad days indeed.