This morning when I read this news post, I felt like someone punched me in the stomach:
Islamic State fighters on Thursday reached the outskirts of the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra, one of the most important cultural heritage sites in the Middle East.
“If I.S. enters Palmyra, it will spell its destruction,” Syria’s director of antiquities, Maamoun Abdulkarim, told Agence France-Presse. “If the ancient city falls, it will be an international catastrophe.”
Palmyra lies at the crossroads of several ancient empires, and is packed with the ruins of 1st and 2nd century temples…”
Six months ago, the name Palmyra meant nothing to me, but, since December, I’ve so entrenched myself in researching this area that my visceral reaction took my breath away.
The final book in my Ancient Elements middle grade historical fiction series (The Silver Coin) follows the main character’s adventures from Egypt (the setting for book two, The Alabaster Jar, coming this fall), to Tyre in Phoenicia as he searches for his uncle. In book three, Sam, now fifteen, sails from Egypt to Crete with his friend Keret where they must escape the clutches of King Minos. Sam and Keret then sail to the island of Cyprus and finally on to Tyre. Meanwhile, Sam’s father, Dagon, recently released from a Babylonian jail, joins a caravan traveling to Tyre in hopes of finding his brother, Zim, and his son, Sam. Unknown to Sam, Sam and his uncle hold the keys to a treasure box that promises to make Dagon an extremely rich man.
That’s where the city of Palmyra comes in. In researching the route I wanted Dagon’s caravan to take, I considered having them travel through the ancient city of Palmyra. I learned that some caravans in 1780 BC took this faster, shorter desert route through Palmyra as they travelled from Babylon to Tyre, but others chose the easier trek that followed the Euphrates River north from Babylonia through the kingdoms of Mari and Yamhad, and then west to the Mediterranean Sea and south to Phoenicia. I opted against the desert trek through Palmyra, but not until I had researched this ancient crossroads from the east to the west. Here’s a map I created of Dagon’s route. Notice Palmyra located in the kingdom of Qatna, an oasis in the desert crossroads between Babylonia and the Phoenician coast.
This morning as I read the article on modern-day Palmyra, I studied the article’s photo of the ancient temple of Baal for several minutes. Having existed for over 3,000 years, historical gems like this may soon be destroyed. Dagon saw these sites as he traveled. The juxtaposition of this current image with what I’ve seen in my mind’s eye while writing The Silver Coin gave me pause. No, it gave me more than pause. That punch in the stomach evidenced the ache I felt for the people who live there now, anger over those who wreak such destruction, and a sense of loss for future generations that may never see these sites in their lifetime. It also pushed me to finish the last few chapters of The Silver Coin so students can read about these places in historical fiction before we humans obliterate such archaeological jewels from the face of the earth.
Go to http://www.dw.de/nimruds-cultural-heritage-destroyed/av-18300712 to see the above video showing ISIS members destroying artifacts in Iraq.