Sunday, May 30, 2010

Syro-American Expedition to Palmyra 2010

Hello and welcome to my blog! I hope that you enjoy my ramblings and seeing what inspires my work! Also to follow is a travelogue of my journeys in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Syro-American Expedition to Palmyra 2010

Views of Palmyra in the daytime and nighttime, View of Palmyra from the Citadel, Alison, Myself, Dr. Finalayson, and Kristen the most dressed-up we will ever get in Palmyra

This field season began with the mapping of our site, which is a tell containing a large building complex that has the potential to be the location of the lost temple of Atargatis. Atargatis was a deity worshipped by the Palmyrenes as a goddess of fertility, springs, and water. It lies between the Efqa springs and the temple of Baal Hamoun and the Bell Temple. It is thought that this area may be a good candidate for the location of the Temple of Atargatis because of the sheer size of the tell, its location on the landscape between the two temples mentioned above, its proximity to the Efqa springs, and because of Palmyrene and Greek inscriptions that make mention of the existence of such a temple in ancient times that was located between the Efqa spring and the Bel Temple complex. Our 2008 excavations of this tell revealed a large post and lintel entrance or gateway. I was present this season to complete the mapping on the western portion of the site and to lay in some new grid points on the eastern portion of the site. After mapping I got to get my hands dirty and excavate a portion of this year’s test trench, which is exposing a wall on the north end of the site.

The site, me digging on the site, me operating the transit on the site, and me on some stairs at the Citadel near Tadmor

While working here we were also fortunate enough to visit some sites around Syria. We were able to go to the crusader castle at Krak that was built by the Hospitallier Knights and Kalat Salahudin that was originally built by the Sanome family and later overtaken by Salahudin during the Crusades. Kalat Salahudin is located in northern Syria in the mountains. There are pine tree forests and fields of wild flowers in the surrounding mountains – it is a really beautiful area. We also visited Latakia on the Mediterranean coast. We went to a really old site (ca. 1450 to 1200 BC) called Ugarit in Latakia – there are Mesopotamian-influenced temples to the gods Dagan and Ba’al along with some pretty sweet ruins of a palace, houses, tombs, and gateway. After that we ate some fish that is local to the area – it was BBQ and very delicious. The fish still had the heads with the eyes and very sharp teeth. We ate that in a restaurant that was on the coast of the Mediterranean so it was a beautiful setting. After lunch we drove down to the coast of the Mediterranean and we hiked down some cliffs to the beach where we all took of our shoes and waded in the water which was refreshing. On Saturday we went to go see a really early Christian site where St. Simeon is said to have preached from a column for 40 years or so. There is a Byzantine church built on the site, and it is in an area called the dead cities which were inhabited by the early Christians. We also visited the water wheels in Hama and we drove through Allepo, which was a really important city in ancient times. We visited a museum at a city called Idleb that had a great collection of artifacts from a Mesopotamian-influenced site called Ebla that had an ancient library of Cuneiform tablets, some of which were on display. On Saturday we ate some Arabian BBQ, which consists of grilled beef, ground lamb, grilled onions and tomato, and flat bread. It is one of my favorites. Probably just under Shwarma from Damascus. We also ate raspberry, strawberry, banana, mango, and lemon-flavored ice creams at a restaurant in Homs with some friends of ours. We had a lot of fun that night. The night life in the Middle East starts at about 9 or 10 o’clock at night and can go to about 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning, so, trying to sleep between those hours can be challenging depending on where you are.

The Mediterranean


Krak des Chevaliers

Qalat Salahuddin

Ice Cream in Homs

We also visited the Christian Aramaic-speaking village of Maaloula which is set in the Qalamoun mountains about 30 miles northeast of Damascus. Like Petra, houses and tombs are carved right into the stone. We visited the Church of Serguis and Bacchus and the shrine of Saint Tekla. We were fortunate enough to hear the Lord’s prayer in the Aramaic and that was a beautiful experience. Later on that evening we arrived in Damascus and stayed at a friend’s house. The next morning we made our way to the Azem Palace to finish up some work before the re-opening of the museum. We ate at my favorite restaurant in Damascus – Beit Jabre. It’s located in an old Damacene-style house that’s been refurbished and transformed into a restaurant in the courtyard portion of the house. We also visited one of my favorite sites in Damascus (and Syria) - the Umayyad Mosque. The site where the mosque now sits was once the location of the temple of Zeus-Hadad, then the temple of Jupiter in the Roman time period, then a Christian church that was dedicated to John the Baptist during the Byzantine period (there is currently a shrine containing the head of John the Baptist within the mosque). Between AD 706 and 715 the mosque was built on the site of the church (after the church was sold by the Christians during that time). The courtyard of the Umayyad Mosque contains some of the most beautiful mosaics depicting paradise, Damascus, or conquered cities - depending on who you talk to. I like to think that they are scenes of paradise.

Maaloula and a cat in a window on Straight Street in Damascus

The Umayyad Mosque

Alison, Kristen, Myself, and Dr. Finlayson at the Umayyad Mosque

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