Tuesday, 25 August 2015


Currently reading ‘Indirections: a memoir 1909-1947’ by Charles Brasch. Last night on the train, between Eaglemont and Heidelberg, I turned the page (p. 222) to find the following description, time circa 1932:

The north Syrian desert is really steppe land, which has enough growth to provide pasture for camels and sheep; wells and local irrigation have given life at different times to a number of caravan stations, towns and castles between coastal Syria and the Euphrates. Greatest of these was Palmyra, which became a client state on the borders of the Roman Empire in the third century A.D., until its celebrated queen Zenobia over-reached herself and was defeated and deposed by Aurelian. What one sees now is the ruins of a considerable town among sandy and stony hills; square towers and stumps of towers, groups of a few standing columns still joined by their architraves, many fallen columns, huge acanthus-leaf capitals sitting heavily on the ground, walls with pilasters and windows opening from nothing onto nothing, arches that stand isolated like question marks – the remains of town walls, temples, porticos, forums, streets with shops, reservoirs and conduits, houses, a cemetery; with inscriptions here and there in Greek and in flowing Palmyrene script. Strangest of all are the square tower-tombs scattered over the slopes, like castles on some enormous disordered chess-board, crumpled by earthquake and long abandoned.

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