In November 2005, my wife and I embarked on a journey that would change my understanding of architecture forever. We flew halfway across the world to visit Palmyra, Syria. Little did we know that this trip would become a memory encapsulated in time, a snapshot of a place before its untimely desecration.
Palmyra: The Jewel of the Desert
We crossed into Syria from Jordan with much excitement and anticipation. Known for its rich history, diverse cultures, and timeless architecture, Palmyra—or Tadmor in Arabic—has been a crossroads of several civilizations. Here, Roman colonnades stand alongside ancient Semitic temples, representing a confluence of architectural styles.
Learning From the Stones
I have always had a fascination with architecture and design. But Palmyra was different; it was like walking through a history book. Each column, archway, and stone carried a narrative, a lesson in the evolution of design. The Great Colonnade, stretching for more than a kilometre, taught me about the magnitude of Roman engineering. The Temple of Bel, on the other hand, provided insights into religious architecture, a space meant not just for worship but for community gathering.
A Paradise Lost
This journey happened six years before the Arab Spring, a series of protests and uprisings that swept across the Middle East and North Africa. The subsequent Syrian Civil War had devastating consequences, not just for the people but also for their cultural heritage. Many of Palmyra’s irreplaceable structures were destroyed or severely damaged. These were not just bricks and mortar; they were embodiments of human ingenuity, each telling a story of its own. Knowing that we were among the last to experience Palmyra in its full glory adds a layer of poignancy to our memories.
Lessons for the Present and Future
While Palmyra’s architecture provided me with a profound lesson in the history and functionality of buildings, its tragic fate also serves as a harsh reminder. Structures, no matter how monumental, are not just objects but repositories of culture and identity. Their protection goes beyond the realm of conservation; it is about safeguarding the spirit of humanity.
So, every time I make a decision in my current role, whether it’s a minor repair or a major renovation, I think of Palmyra. I am reminded that every building has a story and a context, a space in time it occupies. And just like the human touch can turn stones into stories, it also has the power to erase them.
In a world where architectural marvels are not immune to the ravages of conflict and time, let us commit to being stewards, not just managers, of the spaces we oversee. Because in the end, it is through these physical structures that we leave a lasting imprint on the ever-changing sands of time.