Arvind Garg, Palmyra, Syria
With ISIS recapturing it, Palmyra, the ancient Roman city in Syria is unfortunately again in the news. Will they completely destroy this time what little had remained of the magnificent ruins after their first attempt at reducing to rubble this ancient jewel of stone architecture, an oasis in the desert, from the times of the Roman Empire? I am especially worried about the amphitheater in Palmyra, the small gem with exquisite columns and delicate carvings, that had somehow escaped the first round of ruthless destruction.
Along with a photographer friend, I traveled through Jordan and Syria in late 2010, just months before the start of the civil war in Syria, yet we had no inkling of the impending doom in a country and its people we had come to feel as beautiful and friendly. After visiting the fascinating cities of Damascus and Aleppo we spent two days in Palmyra walking and photographing the vast ruins of a city two thousand years old that still seemed to stand strong and tall in the midst of dry and dusty desert lands. The glorious citadel on the top of the hill looked over an ancient urban vista of splendid palaces and columned boulevards whose walls and pillars shone golden bright in the late afternoon light when we first arrived. In the fading light a couple of hours later, with the guides and security guards clearing the area of the few remaining tourists, a bedouin vendor wearing the traditional headdress eagerly sold us embroidered bedspreads, tablecloths and jewelry.
Now with half of Palmyra already brought down and the other half currently in danger, and rest of the country having faced unimaginable human tragedy, the memory of that trip is all the more dear and precious. Except that now the memory comes with a strong elegiac note of pitiless human cruelty and senselessness.