Palmyra – Necropolis
تدمر – مدافن

Surrounding the ancient city of Palmyra (تدمر) is a vast necropolis (مدافن) featuring hundreds of Roman-era tombs, one of the most fascinating aspects of the site to explore. The most remarkable tombs, often constructed for the most prominent residents of the city, feature impressive architecture and detailed funerary art. The wealth and prosperity of this caravan city is reflected in the high quality craftsmanship devoted to these funerary chambers, which were typically shared by entire families.

Several different architectural styles are represented in the tombs of Palmyra (تدمر). Tower tombs were developed earliest, often featuring several floors of burial chambers. The burial compartment of each individual would customarily be faced with a carved limestone relief of their portrait, most of which have either been destroyed over the centuries or relocated to museums. These tower tombs date no later than 128 CE, and are found mostly west and southwest of the ancient city. In later periods, tower tombs were abandoned in favor of underground burial chambers, or hypogeum. These date between 81 CE and 251 CE and are found primarily to the south of the ancient city.

The western necropolis, often referred to as the Valley of the Tombs, is located in a desert valley that extends roughly one kilometer west-southwest of the acropolis. It is here that most of the tower tombs are found, several of which are particularly impressive and well-preserved. Some underground tombs are also located in this area, but the most remarkable, the Hypogeum of Yarhai, has been relocated to the National Museum (المتحف الوطني) in Damascus (دمشق). Other noteworthy hypogea are located south and southeast of the acropolis. These underground tombs are kept locked, however, and access needs to be coordinated with officials at the museum.

Preservation Status: The archaeological remains of Palmyra (تدمر), including the necropolis (مدافن), are under enormous risk. Despite the efforts of authorities with the Directorate-General of Antiquities and Museums (DGAM), several underground tombs have been looted of their relief sculptures and statuary, potentially including previously unexcavated and undocumented hypogea. Since May 2015, the town and environs have been under control of the Islamic State (الدولة الإسلامية) militant group, committed iconoclasts who have purposely targeted archaeological heritage in both Syria and Iraq for destruction. There have been numerous reports of explosives being planted throughout the site, and the tombs of two local Muslim saints were demolished by the group in June 2015. The same month, several Palmyrene funerary sculptures were destroyed by the group after they captured a smuggler attempting to transport them to Turkey. Since late August 2015, no fewer than seven tower tombs have been completely demolished by Islamic State (الدولة الإسلامية), including the four best preserved.

 

Getting There: Palmyra (تدمر) is located at a major crossroads in the Syrian desert between three major cities. It is located east of Homs (حمص‎), northeast of Damascus (دمشق) and southwest of Deir al-Zur (دير الزور). Most buses traveling between Homs (حمص‎) or Damascus (دمشق) and Deir al-Zur (دير الزور) will stop in Palmyra (تدمر). The necropolis (مدافن) is spread over several different areas on the outskirts of the ancient city. Most of the standing tombs are located to the west and southwest, while numerous underground tombs have been found to the southeast.

Coordinates: 34°33’08.00″N / 38°15’29.00″E

Transliteration Variants: Tadmur, Tadmour

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