Palmyra – what the world has lost

One of the most recognisable landmarks of the ruins, the triple arch stood at the head of a grand colonnade that led to the great temple of Bel – until it was destroyed.

It was built as a tribute to the visiting Roman emperor, Septimius Severus, after the Roman victory over the Parthian kingdom in Persia. Richly decorated, it reflected the growing power of Palmyra, which had emerged as one of the wealthiest colonies in the Roman hegemony through its position on a key caravan route.

The UN cultural body, Unesco, which designated Palmyra as a world heritage site, deemed the ‘carved sculptural treatment … an outstanding example of Palmyrene art’.

Temple of Bel

The Temple of Bel was Palmyra’s most important site and the most important temple from antiquity in the Middle East alongside the Baalbek complex in Lebanon. Before the arrival of Christianity in the second century, Palmyra worshipped the Semitic god Bel, along with the sun god Yarhibol and the lunar god Aglibol.

The temple complex is surrounded by walls and includes a dining hall that was also used as a guest house. The temple itself includes an ancient cella (inner chamber) with two inner sanctums, dedicated to the Palmyrians’ supreme deity, Bel, and the sun and moon gods. It was converted into a church and later into a mosque, which was in use until 1930.


 Temple of Baalshamin

The temple of Baalshamin was built in the first century AD, a house of worship dedicated to the Phoenician god of storms and the sky, who evolved into a major deity worshipped during the time of Queen Zenobia and her husband Septimius Odaenathus, the King of Kings of Palmyra.

Its columns carried Greek and Palmyrian inscriptions and it once contained statues of the rich and wealthy patrons of the city.

Ancient tombs

The Jamblique, Elahbel and Kithot tombs were built in AD83, 103 and 44 respectively and were among the best-preserved burial sites from antiquity. They were destroyed by Isis in August. The tower tombs, which were built by rich Palmyrene clans, were rarely seen elsewhere in the Graeco-Roman world.

The multi-storey sandstone monuments, standing outside the city walls in an area known as the Valley of the Tombs, were divided into compartments, or loculi, into which scores of sarcophagi could be placed before being sealed with slabs of stone carved with an image of the deceased and painted in bright colours. Wealthy inhabitants would also bequeath money to priests to hold ceremonies in their memory.

Elahbel tower tomb
Inside the tower before it was destroyed