As ISIS takes over the city of Palmyra, a beautiful, ancient stop along the trade route between east and west whose colonnades and architecture survived thousands of years in the desert but now face probable destruction, I wanted to take a moment to remember.
Since unrest and then war engulfed Syria four years ago, I’ve often thought how lucky I was to have the chance to visit in August 2010 and see the country, particularly its people and historical treasures, before the destruction. It’s one of the more beautiful places I’ve visited in the Middle East. The thought brings more sadness than fond travel memories; an observation that I witnessed a place at a particular moment in time that has long since been destroyed or irreversibly damaged.
Along with the recent attention to Palmyra, there has been criticism that people care more about destroyed antiquities than destroyed lives. I hope that’s not the case, but whatever makes people care about what is still happening in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, or anywhere in turmoil, is useful. I don’t have pictures of every individual I met, nor do I know where or how they are now, if they are still alive. I have no way of finding out, and as a journalist I have felt this isn’t a conflict I could go and cover without too great a risk to my life. But large, historic treasures, particularly entire cities like Palmyra, are visible symbols that people watching all around the world can grab on to, and anything that makes the horror of ISIS visceral may help.
I first started this blog as a travel log and a way to update family and friends as I traveled around Syria, Turkey and then moved back to Egypt. Initially I wrote about visiting the ancient city of Palmyra here: https://lpinthefield.wordpress.com/2010/08/25/city-of-the-palms/ How much things have changed there, here, and all around us since then.