- Site: Palmyra Cultural Landscape (the ancient Tadmur and the current oasis)
- Keywords: Syria, Cultural Landscape, Palmyra, Tadmur, Oasis, Sabkhat Muh, Temple of Ba'al, Diocletian's Camp, ancient agora, roman theatre, funerary sculpture.
1. OFFICIAL CLASSIFICATIONS AND CATEGORIES
1.1 National and International Classification Lists
Palmyra ancient ruins are in the World Heritage List of UNESCO (named: “Palmyra”) since 1980, with the criteria: (i)(ii)(iv), and the ref: 23. The site was designated a national monument. Also, Sabkhat Muh wetland, the lake linked to the oasis of Palmyra, is recorded as a wetland of international importance by IUCN and RAMSAR in the “Directory of Wetlands in the Middle East” (IUCN, WWF, IWRB, BirdLife International and RAMSAR, 1994). It has been also classified as a Bird Area by BirdLife International.
- World heritage list of UNESCO
- Protection Figures
1.2. Cultural Landscape Category/Tipology
Organically evolved landscapesRelict (or fossil) landscape
1.3. Description and Justification by Med-O-Med
Palmyra is an oasis in the Syrian desert, north-east of Damascus, that contains the monumental ruins of a great city that was one of the most important cultural centres of the ancient world. The cultural value of the ancient city, also called Tadmur, is recognized by UNESCO in the World Heritage List. The natural value of the site, the Sabkhat Muh wetland, which is beside of the new settlement of Palmyra, is recognized by IUCN and RAMSAR. Med-O-Med has considered the all site (Palmyra ancient city and Palmyra new oasis) as one Organically Cultural Landscape (continuing and relict landscape), according to the UNESCO criteria (UNESCO Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, Article 1, 1972, Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention, 2008), and taking in consideration the natural and cutural heritage of the site: -Natural Heritage Components: Sabkhat Muh wetland is a seasonally flooded saline lake in the Syrian Desert, of some importance for migratory waterfowl and a possible breeding area for Charadrius leschenaultia columbinus. Since prehistory there has been human settlement in this area, from the Palaeolithic and Neolithic eras. Palmyra is a fertile oasis located close to a mountainous passage, in the heart of the Syrian desert. It developed into a staging post between Al-Shaam and Iraq, the Arab Gulf and Persia and the Mediterranean. The Oasis is a wonderful site where nature and human activity are mixed. People there practice agriculture in hard environmental conditions. Palm gardens around the lake together with the great ancient ruins of Palmyra compose a beatiful landscape, unique in the Syrian desert. -Cultural Heritage Components: Tadmur (Palmyra), to the north of the lake, is famous for its Roman ruins. From the 1st to the 2nd century, the art and architecture of Palmyra, standing at the crossroads of several civilizations, married Graeco-Roman techniques with local traditions and Persian influences. First mentioned in the archives of Mari in the 2nd millennium BC, Palmyra was an established caravan oasis when it came under Roman control in the mid-first century AD as part of the Roman province of Syria. It was to the exploitation of this rich caravan trade that the city owed its prosperity and importance. A grand, colonnaded street of 1100 metres’ length forms the monumental axis of the city, which together with secondary colonnaded cross streets links the major public monuments including the Temple of Ba’al, Diocletian’s Camp, the Agora, Theatre, other temples and urban quarters. Architectural ornament including unique examples of funerary sculpture unites the forms of Greco-roman art with indigenous elements and Persian influences in a strongly original style. Outside the city’s walls are remains of a Roman aqueduct and immense necropolises.
2. NAME / LOCATION / ACCESSIBILITY
- Current denomination Palmyra, Tadmur.
- Current denomination Palmyra, Tadmur.
- Original denomination Palmyra , Aramaic: ܬܕܡܘܪܬܐ, Hebrew: תדמור, tiḏmor, Ancient Greek: Παλμύρα, Tadmur).
- Popular denomination Palmyra , Aramaic: ܬܕܡܘܪܬܐ, Hebrew: תדמור, tiḏmor, Ancient Greek: Παλμύρα, Tadmur).
- Address: Palmyra was an ancient city in central Syria, province of Homs.
- Geographical coordinates: Palmyra ruins: 34°33′36″N 38°16′2″E Sabkhat Muh wetland: 34°28'N, 38°20'E, altitude: 403 m.
- Area, boundaries and surroundings: Palmyra ruins, in antiquity, it was an important city located in an oasis 215 km northeast of Damascus and 180 km southwest of the Euphrates at Deir ez-Zor. The Sabkhat Muh Wetland is some km south and southeast of Tadmur (Palmyra), covering an area of 20,000 ha.
3. LEGAL ISSUES
- Owner: State owned.
- Body responsible for the maintenance: Syrian Government.
- Legal protection: The site was designated a national monument and is now protected by the National Antiquities law 222 as amended in 1999. A buffer zone was established in 2007 but has not yet been submitted to the World Heritage Committee. Sabkhat Muh is part of a larger site (45,000 ha) identified as an Important Bird Area by BirdLife International.
- Public or private organizations working in the site: The regional strategic action plan currently under preparation is expected to provide guidelines to expand and edefine the site as a cultural landscape, with respect to the transitional zones around the archaeological site, the oasis and the city. There is an on-going need for a conservation and restoration plan to be developed that addresses fully the complex issues associated with this extensive multiple site and will allow for coordinated management, clear priorities and a cultural tourism strategy and address the issues of expansion of the nearby town.
Palmyra exerted a decisive influence on the evolution of neoclassical architecture and modern urbanization.The city offers the consummate example of an ancient urbanized complex, for the most part protected, with its large public monuments such as the Agora, the Theatre and the temples. Alongside these, the inhabited quarters are preserved, and there are immense cemeteries outside the fortified enceinte. Palmyran art, for which the great museums of the world now vie, unites the forms of Graeco-Roman art with indigenous elements and Iranian influences in a strongly original style. As the crossroads of several civilizations, it is here that unique creations came into existence, notably in the domain of funerary sculpture. Since prehistory there has been human settlement in this area, from the Palaeolithic and Neolithic eras. Palmyra is a fertile oasis located close to a mountainous passage, in the heart of the Syrian desert. It developed into a staging post between Al-Shaam and Iraq, the Arab Gulf and Persia and the Mediterranean. It was to the exploitation of this rich caravan trade that the city owed its prosperity and importance. Palmyra established itself as the most important market for Eastern products and the leading caravan city of the Roman Empire, taking over a role that had previously been performed by Petra. This began when the emperor Trajan in AD 105-6 incorporated it into the new province of Arabia, following the annexation of Nabatea, a client state that controlled much of the trade with the East. During the 3rd century AD, with the accession of the Sassanid dynasty to the Parthian throne and the resulting resumption of hostilities against the Romans, Palmyra also assumed an important strategic and military role: the nobleman Septimius Odaenathus obtained support and recognition from Rome, as an ally in their struggle against the Sassanids. When the Emperor Valerian was defeated and captured by the King of the Parthians, Odaenathus took a stand in defence of the empire and Valerian’s son, Gallienus, winning a series of military victories. He was succeeded on the throne by his younger son from his second marriage, Wahballath, under the regency of his mother Zenobia, who invited to her court as her son’s preceptor Cassius Longinus. She conquered all of Syria and extended her dominion as far as Egypt and Anatolia. Palmyra, which was spared at first, made an attempt at rebellion but was quickly sacked and plundered, and the city walls were destroyed. It was the beginning of the city’s decline, but the myth of the queen of Palmyra, Zenobia, was not destroyed. She was the incarnation of the finest male and female virtues, which were to outlive the collapse of the ancient world. Palmyra was a wealthy caravan centre from 44 BC to AD 272, alternately independent from and under the rule of Rome, which during the 2nd and 3rd centuries was richly embellished.
5. GENERAL DESCRIPTION
5.1. Natural heritage
- Heritage: Archaeological
- Geography: Desert Lake
- Site topography: Natural
- Climate and environmental conditions: General overview of the country: The climate of the coastal plain is Mediterranean, with hot, dry summers and mild, wet winters. Rainfall increases with altitude in the coastal mountain ranges, and snow is common in winter. In the dry steppe and open desert country east of the mountains, a marked continental climate prevails, with high summer temperatures and relatively cold winters, with many nights of frost. Over most of this region, which covers approximately 60% of the country, the average annual rainfall is less than 250 mm. In spring and autumn, the hot and dusty "khamsin" wind, blowing from the east and southeast, may cause temperatures to rise as high as 43-49°C. Damascus, situated east of the coastal mountain ranges, has a mean annual rainfall of 225 mm and average temperatures ranging from 7°C in January to 27°C in July.
There are some scattered Tamarix bushes around the margins of the lake. The surrounding desertic steppe is sparsely vegetated with perennial tussock-grass, Chenopodiaceae and Artemisia sp., and there is an isolated oasis to the north of the lake with extensive date-palm gardens.
Little information is available. Waterfowl recorded at the salt lake in autumn and winter have included Phoenicopterus ruber (90 in November 1974) and Grus grus. Eudromias morinellus appears to be a common winter visitor to the surrounding plains, flocks totalling 200 have been observed in the area in November. The scarce and local Southwest Asian subspecies of Greater Sand Plover Charadrius leschenaultii columbinus has been observed displaying in spring, and probably breeds in the area. The oasis to the north of the lake provides the only substantial shelter for migrating birds for 150 km to the north and west and for much further to the south and east. It appears to be especially important for migrating raptors such as Pernis apivorus, Buteo buteo, Milvus migrans, Circus macrourus and C. pygargus. The Houbara Bustard Chiamydotis undulata apparently breeds in the surrounding desert, along with a characteristic assemblage of desert species. Mammals reported to occur in the area include Wolf Canis lupus, Caracal Lynx caracal and Goitred Gazelle Gazella subgutturosa.
Land uses and economical activities:-The main land use in the surrounding area is livestock grazing. Also agriculture. Possible changes in land use: No information. -Recreation and tourism: The ruins at Tadmur are much visited by tourists.
Agricultural issues or other traditional productions and their effect on the landscape:Palm gardens.
Summary of Landscapes values and characteristics:
Sabkhat Muh wetland is a seasonally flooded saline lake in the Syrian Desert, of some importance for migratory waterfowl and a possible breeding area for Charadrius leschenaultia columbinus. Since prehistory there has been human settlement in this area, from the Palaeolithic and Neolithic eras. Palmyra is a fertile oasis located close to a mountainous passage, in the heart of the Syrian desert.Tadmur (Palmyra ancient ruins), to the north of the lake, is famous for its Roman ruins.
5.2. Cultural Heritage
A) Related to current constructions, buildings and art pieces in general
Architectonical elements /Sculptures:
Palmyra exerted a decisive influence on the evolution of neoclassical architecture and modern urbanization.The city offers the consummate example of an ancient urbanized complex, for the most part protected, with its large public monuments such as the Agora, the Theatre and the temples. Alongside these, the inhabited quarters are preserved, and there are immense cemeteries outside the fortified enceinte.
Art pieces, artesany, furniture and other elements:
Palmyran art, for which the great museums of the world now vie, unites the forms of Graeco-Roman art with indigenous elements and Iranian influences in a strongly original style. As the crossroads of several civilizations, it is here that unique creations came into existence, notably in the domain of funerary sculpture.
In the case of gardens: original and current style:It is not the case.
B) Related to ancient remains
- Archaeological components:
-The most striking building in Palmyra is the huge temple of Ba’al, considered “the most important religious building of the first century AD in the Middle East”. It originated as a Hellenistic temple, of which only fragments of stones survive. The central shrine (cella) was added in the early 1st century AD, followed by a large double colonnaded portico in Corinthian style. The west portico and the entrance (propylaeum) date from the 2nd century. The temple measures 205 x 210 m. The grand colonnade, 1,100 m in length, which links the temple of Bel with the so-called Camp of Diocletian, is the monumental axis of the city, with its open central street flanked by covered lateral passages. The principle of the colonnaded portico is to be found in the secondary axes, which run perpendicular to the grand colonnade, and certain of these date back to the 2nd century. The colonnade is not perspectival in its progress: the two areas are not aligned with each other, and so it takes a sharp turn before straightening out again at the three-arched Triumphal arch dating from the Severan period, only to undergo a further adjustment to align itself with the so-called Tetrapyle, two pairs of floral columns symmetrically arranged on tall monumental bases. The temple proper, built in AD 32, stood at the centre of a sacred precinct which was later bounded by a broad porticoed peribolos with a double order of columns on the interior, punctuated on the exterior by elegant Corinthian pilaster strips. -The second most noteworthy remain in Palmyra is the Roman theater, today with nine rows of seats, but most likely originally having up to twelve with the addition of wooden structures. It has been dated to the early 1st century AD. Behind the theater were located a small Senate building, where the local nobility discussed laws and made political decisions, and the so-called “Tariff Court”, with an inscription suggesting that it was a place for caravans to make payments. Nearby is the large agora (measuring 48 x 71 m), with remains of a banquet room (triclinium), the agora’s entrance was decorated with statues of Septimius Severus and his family. -Outside the ancient walls, the Palmyrenes constructed a series of large-scale funerary monuments which now form the so-called Valley of the Tombs, a 1 km long necropolis, with a series of large, richly decorated structures. These tombs, some of which were below ground, had interior walls that were cut away or constructed to form burial compartments in which the deceased, extended at full length, were placed. Limestone slabs with human busts in high relief sealed the rectangular openings of the compartments. These reliefs represented the “personality” or “soul” of the person interred and formed part of the wall decoration inside the tomb chamber. A banquet scene depicted on this relief suggests a family tomb rather than that of an individual. -Recently, archaeologists in working in central Syria have unearthed the remnants of a 1,200-year-old church believed to be the largest ever discovered in Syria, at an excavation site in the ancient town of Palmyra. This church is the fourth to be discovered in Palmyra. Officials described it as the biggest of its kind to be found so far — its base measuring an impressive 47 meters by 27 meters. The church columns were estimated to be 6 meters tall, with the height of the wooden ceiling more than 15 meters. A small amphitheater was found in the church’s courtyard where the experts believe some Christian rituals were practiced.
- Historical routes:
First mentioned in the archives of Mari in the 2nd millennium BC, Palmyra was an established caravan oasis when it came under Roman control in the mid-first century AD as part of the Roman province of Syria. It grew steadily in importance as a city on the trade route linking Persia, India and China with the Roman Empire, marking the crossroads of several civilisations in the ancient world.
- Traces in the environment of human activity: -Palm gardens in the current oasis of Palmyra. -Ancient city of Palmyra (Tadmur).
C) Related to intangible, social and spiritual values
- Population, ethnic groups: Cultures that have influenced the site along the history: Israelite, Greek, Roman, and Arabic, associated with Odaenathus and Zenobia.
- Languages and dialects: Arabic
Condition: environmental/ cultural heritage degradation:-Palmyra ruins: there is an on-going need for a conservation and restoration plan to be developed that addresses fully the complex issues associated with this extensive multiple site and will allow for coordinated management, clear priorities and a cultural tourism strategy and address the issues of expansion of the nearby town. -Disturbances and threats of the lake: the lake is relatively remote and probably under little threat. However, the surrounding desertic steppe is increasingly coming under pressure from grazing by domestic livestock, as the use of water bowsers becomes more widespread.
Quality of the night sky, light pollution and possibility to observe the stars:Oases are privileged sites to breath in silence, to find ourselves and to observe the pure beauty of nature, including the stars that are brighting in the night sky, free of light pollution.
Perspectives/Views/ Points of interest/Setting:
-Palmyra or Tadmur ruins. -The current oasis of Palmyra and the Sabkhat Muh wetland.
Authenticity:The key attributes display well their grandeur and splendour. However the setting is vulnerable to the encroachment of the adjacent town that could impact adversely on the way the ruins are perceived as an oasis closely related to their desert surroundings.
Universality:-Med-O-Med agrees the UNESCO criteria (i, ii, iv) described for the site: i) The splendour of the ruins of Palmyra, rising out of the Syrian desert north-east of Damascus is testament to the unique aesthetic achievement of a wealthy caravan oasis intermittently under the rule of Rome from the Ier to the 3rd century AD. The grand colonnade constitutes a characteristic example of a type of structure which represents a major artistic development. ii) Recognition of the splendour of the ruins of Palmyra by travellers in the 17th and 18th centuries contributed greatly to the subsequent revival of classical architectural styles and urban design in the West. iv) The grand monumental colonnaded street, open in the centre with covered side passages, and subsidiary cross streets of similar design together with the major public buildings, form an outstanding illustration of architecture and urban layout at the peak of Rome's expansion in and engagement with the East. The great temple of Ba'al is considered one of the most important religious buildings of the 1st century AD in the East and of unique design. The carved sculptural treatment of the monumental archway through which the city is approached from the great temple is an outstanding example of Palmyrene art. The large scale funerary monuments outside the city walls in the area known as the Valley of the Tombs display distinctive decoration and construction methods. -Med-O-Med also agrees the reasons for inclusion in the "Directory of Wetlands in the Middle East" (IUCN, WWF, IWRB, BirdLife International and RAMSAR, 1994): la & 3b, refered to the Sabkhat Muh wetland. It is a good example of a natural salt lake of importance for migratory waterfowl.
Historical and graphical data (drawings, paintings, engravings, photographs, literary items…):
Palmyra Cultural Landscape is one of all of the cultural landscapes of Syria which are included in The Cultural Landscape inventory runned by Med-O-Med.
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