Photographs of Aleppo, Syria from 16 Feb 2011, a few days before the start of the civil war. Also see Palmyra from the same period.
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.
It had long been a vital caravan city for travellers crossing the Syrian desert and was known as the Bride of the Desert. The earliest documented reference to the city by its Semitic name Tadmor, Tadmur or Tudmur (which means “the town that repels” in Amorite and “the indomitable town” in Aramai is recorded in Babylonian tablets found in Mari.
Palmyra became the capital of the short-lived Palmyrene Empire (260–273) which was a splinter empire, that broke off of the Roman Empire during the the Third Century. It encompassed the Roman provinces of Syria Palaestina, Egypt and large parts of Asia Minor. The Palmyrene Empire was ruled by Queen Zenobia.
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The khan or Caravanserai of As’ad Pasha al-Azem is situated along Suq al-Buzuriyyah in the old city of Damascus. It was built between 1751 and 1752 by the city governor As’ad Pasha al-Azem. It is one the most prominent khans of the old city, and covers an area of 2500 square meters.
The building follows a typical khan layout with two floors giving onto a central courtyard. The Khan is entered from Suq al-Buzuriyyah, through a monumental gateway lavishly decorated with stone carvings and roofed by a muqarnas semi-dome. The entrance leads to a square courtyard with shops on the ground floor, used for commerce and storage. The second floor, accessible by a staircase located to the right of the main entrance was used mainly for loadging, and has eighty rooms arranged along a gallery facing the courtyard.
The space of the courtyard is divided into nine equal square modules, where each module is covered with a dome raised on a drum pierced with twenty windows. The domes are supported by pendentives that transfer the load onto four piers and to the courtyard walls. An octagonal marble fountain occupies the center of the courtyard below the central dome. Each of the four courtyard walls has three doorways on the ground floor, flanked by two rectangular windows. The symmetry is maintained on the second floor where each gallery façade has three archways flanked by two smaller ones. The khan is built of alternating courses of basalt and limestone.
Three of the courtyard domes were destroyed in an earthquake seven years after the khan’s completion. The openings were covered with wooden planks until 1990 when the khan was restored and the domes rebuilt. No longer used for commerce at the beginning of the twentieth century, the khan was used for manufacture and storage until it was restored in 1990 winning the Aga Khan Award for Architecture.
The Umayyad Mosque also known as the Great Mosque of Damascus is the first monumental work of architecture in Islamic history; the building served as a central gathering point after Mecca to consolidate the Muslims in their faith and conquest to rule the surrounding territories under the Umayyad Caliphate. It is considered the fourth-holiest place in Islam.
“The Krak of the Knights [Krak des Chevaliers], described by T.E. Lawrence as ‘the best preserved and most wholly admirable castle in the world,’ is the easternmost of a chain of five castles sited so as to secure the Homs Gap…The castle stands upon a southern spur of the Gebel Alawi, on the site of an earlier Islamic ‘Castle of the Kurds.’ In 1142 it was given by Raymond, Count of Tripoli, into the care of the Knights Hospitallers, and it was they who, during the ensuing fifty years, remodelled and developed it as the most distinguished work of military architecture of its time.”Sir Banister Fletcher. A History of Architecture