23 Site of Palmyra – 1980



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An oasis in the Syrian desert, north-east of Damascus, Palmyra contains the monumental ruins of a great city that was one of the most important cultural centres of the ancient world. 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.

Brief synthesis

An oasis in the Syrian desert, north-east of Damascus, Palmyra contains the monumental ruins of a great city that was one of the most important cultural centres of the ancient world. 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 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. 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.

Discovery of the ruined city by travellers in the 17th and 18th centuries resulted in its subsequent influence on architectural styles.

Criterion (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.

Criterion (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.

Criterion (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.

Integrity (2009)

All the key attributes, including the main colonnaded street, major public buildings and funerary monuments, lie within the boundary. The tower tombs and the citadel are vulnerable to minor earthquakes and lack of conservation. Since the time of inscription, the population of the adjacent town has increased and is encroaching on the archaeological zone. Although traffic has increased, the main road that passed through the site has been diverted. Increased tourism has brought pressure for facilities within the property.

Authenticity (2009)

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.

Protection and management requirements (2009)

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.

The regional strategic action plan currently under preparation is expected to provide guidelines to expand and redefine 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.

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