Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Dead Cities of Syria

Abandoned settlements, "ghost towns", or ruins.  As there are many words one can use for the wreckage of past human settlement so there are many feelings these ruins can elicit.  I felt a wonder of forgotten past whenever I traveled by the Indian burial mounds near my hometown yet I felt a sadness, a loss, when I saw all the abandoned farmstead on the Great Plains on the way to my grandparents' farm.  A sense of great evil and injustice was the feeling which moved me when I saw villages destroyed by Saddam Hussein.  One of the most unsettling feelings when coming across ruins is when one encounters something that feels out of place on the physical or cultural landscape.  An alien on the landscape can confuse and even upset if one tries to comprehends the massive turmoil between the ruins' inhabitation and today.

The feelings of confusion, loss, sadness were all felt by me when I first learned about the lost cities in northwest Syria.

View Larger Map

In the northwest of Syria there is an area 25 miles by 90 miles (roughly 40 km by 140 km) in which over 700 ruined cities dating from about 500 BC to around AD 700.  These ruins are collective known as the Dead Cities.

Part of one of the dead cities.  From James Gordon of Los Angeles on Flickr.

Many of these ruins have Roman/Byzantine architecture with the ruins of churches still clearly visible.

The ruins of a once great church.  From James Gordon of Los Angeles on Flickr.
These cities thrived on the trade routes which connected Imperial Asia Minor and Constantinople with the Levant, Persia, and Arabia.  The lack of battle damage on these cities offers physical proof that the Islamic invasion itself did not destroy these cities but economics.  The trade routes of the Islamic traveled differently, more along the coasts and to Arabia, than in Roman/Byzantine times.  The Byzantines and other cultural Greeks left these cities for places like Damascus and greater Arabia.  These lively cities quickly died.

Today these ruins are an UNESCO Heritage Site.  Even with this status they are little known and the current conditions

1 comment:

Dan tdaxp said...

Truly amazing to see the whole photo set.

This is the flip-side of the economic destruction in Pirenne's "Muhammad and Charlemagne," which has lists of monastery supplies going to 0 after the Islamic blockade of Europe began.