From Damascus, the Syrian capital, it's a dusty journey of at least three hours by way of ancient rocky villages to reach Palmyra, standing like a life-sized cinema set against the backdrop of the bare desert landscape. Back in the eighteenth century, the French historian and philosopher, the Comte de Volney, wrote of the legendary cultures of the Middle East, claiming that neither Greece nor Italy left anything to compare with these ruins in the desert.
The origins of Palmyra are obscure, although some say the city dates back to the times of King Solomon, and it may be that the name is associated with the date palms of the region. What is clear, though, is the power and independence the city attained from its connections with other Nabatean epicentres of commerce such as Petra. The transfer of goods and knowledge flowed along the Silk Road from the depths of Asia Minor to the Mediterranean ports, and the city's strength was founded on both its strategic location and the taxes demanded of all who wished to travel safely across her domains.