The visit to Syria and Jordan in 1996 was mainly to see Petra but also included several of the archaeological sites in Syria, including Bosra and Palmyra, and Jerash in Jordan.
Syria is cited as being the centre of one of the most ancient civilisations on earth. ‘Around the city of Ebla in northern Syria, discovered in 1975, a great Semitic empire spread from the Red Sea north to Turkey and east to Mesopotamia from 2500 to 2400 BC. Syria was occupied successively by Canaanites, Phoenicians, Hebrews, Arameans, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Nabateans, Byzantines and, in part, crusaders before coming under the control of the Ottoman Turks. Syria is significant in the history of Christianity. Paul was converted on the road to Damascus and established the first organized Christian church at Antioch in ancient Syria. Damascus, settled about 2500 BC is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. It came under Muslim rule in AD636’.5
Bosra, capital of the northern Nabatean kingdom in the 1st century BC (Petra being he southern capital) is built of basalt. On a cold, wet day the famous citadel and theatre looked dark and imposing. A line of elegant Corinthian columns rises from the rubble of the forum, none of them cipollino. ‘In 71 BC Bosra was the capital city of the Nabateans, prosperous, with rich markets, palaces, temples and defensive walls. When the Romans took it in AD 105 the city was the natural capital for their new province of Arabia. Under Trajan it was given a new, grandiose title Nova Trajana Bosra. It was a metropolis still under Phillip (AD 245-9) and it is the ruins of the Roman past which speak today of the glory which died here thirteen centuries ago’. 6
‘Palmyra was one of the great cities of the ancient world, and its citizens were amongst the most widely travelled. Palmyra appeared first in the latter half of the second millennium BC as the Semitic village of Tadmor in an oasis blest by sulphur springs but otherwise seemingly of no great account. In the first century BC the integration and enrichment of the western world under Rome brought it, with the name of Palmyra, a new importance as the central caravan-city in the sea of sand which separated the wealthy states at the head of the Persian Gulf from the Graeco-Roman societies of the eastern Mediterranean. Politically Rome exercised a remote and unemphatic control over it and Septimus Severus about AD 200 gave it the honorific rank of colony.’
During the third century AD the city suffered under the disturbances involving the Palmyrene leader Odenathus and his wife, Zenobia. Palmyra was destroyed in 273 and later the emperor Diocletian built a fortress and in the sixth century Justinian rebuilt the garrison and added new towers to Zenobia’s defences. The site was occupied by the Arabs in 633 and a Bedouin village has remained amongst the ruins until the present time.
The main features of the very extensive site are the temple of Bel, the monumental arch, the theatre and agora and the colonnaded street. ‘But the lasting memory of Palmyra is that of an oasis of pale-golden columns rising dramatically, if also a little forlorn, from the midst of the desert which, by a strange fate, first brought to it the wealth of East and West and then, in changing circumstances, enclosed it once more from the outside world’. 7
Judging from photographs of the visit to Syria there is certainly no evidence of cipollino. At Palmyra it is possible that some exists although the site is quite far from the coast. It was much easier in the days of the Roman Empire to transport heavy shipments of marble to Roman cities nearer the sea. However, Lazzarini insists that ‘columns of cipollino are present in all the most important cities of the empire, even those further from the coast, for example at Palmyra.’8
There are other references to a column of cipollino half buried in the sand. 9 Palmyra is a very large site and although there is no recollection of seeing any, there might well have been some fragments which were missed. It would certainly not have been missed had there been anything like the rows of columns at Leptis Magna or Apollonia in Libya.
5 www.state.gov...facts ) … Background Notes...Facts about the land, people, history, government etc.
6 From the notes supplied by the travel company organising our tour, Voyages Jules Verne
7 Wheeler, Sir Mortimer, Syria, pp. 437-8, notes provided by the travel company organising the tour.
8 Lazarini, L., 2007 Poikiloi Lithoi, versiculores maculae; i marmi colorati della Grecia antica. Storia, uso, diffusione cave, geologia, etc., Roma, 2009, Chapter 12, p. 184
9 Palmyra; a column lies almost buried in the sand immediately east of the tetrapylon’. V. Hankey, A Marble Quarry at Karystos, Extrait du Bulletin du Musée D Beyrouth, t. XVIII, Beyrouth, 1965, pp. 53-59.