Palmyra – were you there?

Mary Russell

It’s 08.30 and the day is warming up. A few young boys in blue overalls collect the bits of paper and soft-drink cans that litter the side of the road. Their hearts aren’t in it but they carry on, bending, picking up, bending again. This is the road to the other part of Tadmor – Roman Palmyra – and the authorities want it to look good, to show that they care about what is undoubtedly the greatest first century place of worship in the Middle East.

The Temple of Bel is an electrifying 200 metre square rectangle of towering pillars, altars – and divine mystery. At its centre is the sublime Propylaea, the huge vestibule fronting the inner sanctum with a majestic stairway, 35 metres wide, leading up to its eight-pillared entrance. To the left of the Propylaea is the altar on which the animals were slaughtered and to the…

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