In Palmyra we sleep in the Cham hotel, which is located in the archaeological site, meaning you can see the monuments sticking out of the sand from the hotel and can walk straight in. There are a couple of buses here and a few groups of tourists. We get a guide via the hotel to visit the site, which is really big and not well developed for tourists. There are some locals hanging around, some on a bike, that offer to guide you or to sell you stuff, but they do not press if you indicate you are not interested.

The site has remains from different time periods, including an Arab fortress, a temple of Bel, tower tombs and underground tombs. Most impressive of all is its sheer size and the fact there’s almost nobody visiting it. You can wander around the grounds without any limits about where you can step or go.

We visit the Arab fortress in the late afternoon, because we were told that there’s a magnificent view of the site in the setting sun. And indeed, from up there it’s laid out in the valley like a 3-D map. There are not that many buildings standing, but the history is fascinating. It was a major stop on the trade routes from the Mediterranean coast to the Euphrates valley and a green spot in the desert thanks to its underground water supply.

We visit the temple of Bel and several tombs with the guide. He tells us some of the history, but the coolest part is that we’re allowed to just walk around, up and over the ruins, without following paths or walkways. It feels more like an abandoned town than like a museum.

I take lots of pictures, because it’s so unbelievable picturesque.

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