Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Palmyra II [updated with pics and more; first posted 12/03/09]

I was up at 4AM on the 10th to get ready to head out to watch the sun rise over the ruins in Palmyra. Ali was waiting outside the hotel with his camel. We headed up to what he called Zenobia Palace (the travel guide book says it is Diocletian's camp). Before the sun rose, we checked out a cave tomb behind the structures.Then we climbed up to the top of the ruins.The sunrise was good but not great. Not colorful or anything like that. After the sun rose, we went for a camel ride around the ruins.[tower tomb]After a bit, we stopped for a little break at the Baths: "It is known as Zenobia's baths, consist of three main parts; Frigidarium (cold), Tepidarium (warm) ,and Caldarium (hot). It has a nice facade with granite columns. (2ed - 3ed Cent AD)." The travel guide book says it is Diocletian's Baths, but the original structure was there before he arrived in Palmyra. I read that he just made the entry a bit fancier (he was obsessed with building). The columns at the entry are Egyptian red granite).That was when I took the videos of the camel munching away. :) Ali then left me to wander a bit on my own while he went to get his motor bike. [the Fakhr-al-Din al-Maani Castle is in the distance on the hill/mountain to the right.]Every ledge on the sides of the pillars at one time held a statue. Any remaining statues are now in the Palmyra museum and others. It would be amazing to see what the Grand Colonnade would have looked like with all of the statues as it used to be. Above every statue was one of these drain like lion heads (of which this is the only one remaining intact), or something similar:The explanation I got for the drains is that it didn't rain very often in Palmyra, but when it does, the water would run down over the statues from a roof (I think he was saying that the Colonnade was, at one time, covered), and clean them in the process.[The Tetrapylon marked the center of the city and was used as some sort of roundabout or traffic circle. It is 4 sets of 4 pillars, which were originally Egyptian red granite. It was reconstructed in 1939][view up the Grand Colonnade from the Tetrapylon][above is a wall on the side of the Agora, a large rectangular area used as a market place and place for public gaterhings][The Theater]The theater was buried in sand up until the 1950s and has had a lot of restoration work done.[Part of the aqueduct system?][another view of the valley of the tombs]We drove out into the desert, in the opposite direction from the previous day's trip to the Bedouin camp. The desert here is very rocky, not sandy and smooth like around Dubai or around Siwa in Egypt. After driving a while, we stopped for a breakfast picnic. He had packed tea, cheese (the little triangles like the Laughing Cow cheese) and bread (flat bread). Perfect for a breakfast out in the desert.[camels at a Bedouin camp in the distance, at 50x digital zoom, with camera just balanced on my knee]
Then we drove some more.[powerlines in the desert; photo taken from back of moving motorbike - a fairly rough ride, actually] Ali wanted to show me the new(ish) camel race track which is about 30 km out of the town. Before heading there, we checked out some ruins that are sort of near the track. Ali said he has passed them so many times on the way back and forth from the tracks, but had never stopped to see them before.It is one bigger structure and a few smaller ones.We climbed to the top of the wall.Quite the view, and very high (scary!! - I'm afraid of heights). It was amazing to sit atop the ruins with the desert all the way around, and no people.There's a gecko in this picture... can you find it? It's on one of the rocks in the corner of the structure. Guess it's a tad hard to see. :PHere is the gecko at 50x zoom.After taking in the view (and taking a few pictures), we headed for the track. The old one, closer to (in) the city, is only a 5 km track but the new one is 10km track.We drove along the road the follows the oval race track. Ali had raced on the new track about 6 months ago. He came in second. His brother, Adel (the one with the tattoos), came in first. For about 2 months before the race, they stayed at the track and trained the camels. They trained them to run longer races so that the 10 km would seem easy. There are enclosed areas nearby where the racers can set up camp.
After the tracks, we went back to the town.[a small dust devil on the road ahead of us]An odd building on the edge of the oasis: some sort of beehive house. There are a couple of villages of beehive adobe houses in Syria, but I didn't have time to go see them. Check out beehive houses on Google and you'll get all sorts of cool pictures. We went into the oasis and sat for a while in one of his uncles' garden.Ali and I made plans to meet later to have dinner at his friend's home, and he dropped me off in front of the Temple Of Bel, which is said to have been one of the most important religious structures in the 1st Century.I checked out the temple in a short time. It was only open for another 15 more minutes. Even though there was only a short time left, I still had to pay. That's okay. There isn't really that much within the walls. Only one main structure. I think some of the wall surrounding the structure were not quite put together the way they originally were. It seems they used some fallen pillars in the walls as there are sections of circular stone.Looks strange and out of place. There were 4 young Syrian police (or army?) men looking around the temple as well. When I went out (when everyone was kicked out), they approached me to say hi and they wanted a picture with me. Each one wanted a picture with me. LOL.They took turns and then said bye. I was walking away towards the main ruins and they ran after me again and said they wanted one more picture, with the ruins. Funny. I suppose I'm used to having people ask to take pictures with me from living in Korea and from traveling. It doesn't seem unusual to me. Only a tad funny.[Walking towards the entrance to the Grand Colonnade from Temple of Bel]
While I waited for Ali, I went back to the hotel for a while and then went out to walk a little. I didn't walk far as I decided to check out a little shop. As soon as you walk into a shop there (or in many places around Syria, really), you are invited for tea. The guy was very interesting to talk to and had some suggestions for places to travel and how to get places (though a bit too expensive for me on this trip). As soon as I finished my small glass of tea, he refilled it. A couple of times. That is how it works here. I wonder if by the time I return home I'll be sick of tea?? And they put a lot of sugar in it.
When it was time to meet Ali, he picked me up on his motorcycle and we headed out into the maze of the oasis to his friend's little home. His friend came with a huge platter. On it was a smaller, but still huge platter with a mountain of seasoned rice, topped with chicken and carrots and tomatoes. On the side there were dishes of salad and bowls of yogurt (unsweetened) for each of us - Me, Ali, his friend, his friend's brothers, one of whom was only 5 (?). It was soo good! That, of course, was followed by tea.
After eating and having tea, I went back to the hotel to head to bed. It was a long day and we had a plan to meet at 5 AM for another sunrise.

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