And so we arrived at Palmyra, the ancient trading center that once was ruled by Queen Zenobia.

Atypically, it was overcast and off and on rainy, but even with uncooperative weather, the mystique of the site was totally captivating and rewarding. And there are so many layers of history there. The site was first described on tablets dating back to the 19th Century B.C. Here there are temples of Baal that were converted to Byzantine churches and then Mosques. With the whole thing overlooked by an imposing castle high on a hill. (Built 1200, sacked 1635)

It is all due to a well placed geological fold of the Anti-Lebanon range, which provides a reliable spring, which made the site useful as a caravan stop 5000 years ago. Under the Greeks and then Romans the site became a city and became more and more wealthy. In a fascinating historical diversion, the beguilingly named Queen Zenobia led a successful revolt against the Roman authority and promptly conquered Egypt, and spent the next few years taking control of Syria and Asia Minor. Unfortunately for her nascent nation, Zenobia had over extended her empire and it was snapped right back up by the Romans.

As it stands today, the ruins mostly date from the second and third centuries A.D.

Our first stop was the Valley of Tombs, an eerie place just west of Palmyra. Here there are countless tombs scattered across the desert. Some in crumbled ruins, others quite well preserved. Apparently there is much more to be discovered here as a massive earthquake leveled the whole area in the 10th century, and archeaologists theorize that under the desert floor lie many, many more tombs.

Palmyra, with the massive Temple of Bel to the right.

This little feller wanted to be my travelling companion.

The Mameluke built Qalaat Ibn Maan overlooking the city.

Copyright Estate of Anthony Vail Sloan 2009