yesterday i was in palmyra (tadmor)--a small town in the middle of syria surrounded by desert. the modern town of palmyra is not much to look at. in fact, it's principle purpose seems to be wrangling money out of tourists. but it was still worth it. palmyra is an amazing place.
it's not much now, but the town used to be very important. it sits on an oasis in what used to be the border between the parthian and the roman empires. eventually palmyra was incorporated into the roman state. then, in the third century, the local leader queen zenoubia, turned on rome, defeated its army, seized control of a good chunk of the roman east. independence only lasted for a few years, but today in palmyra you still see the name zenoubia everywhere.
palmyra has the best archeological site i have ever seen. the roman-era city is bigger than the roman forum, and blends into the pre-roman valleys of tombs on one side, and runs right up to the bluff that holds an abayyid era citadel on the other. the night before last i sat on the walls of the citadel and watched the sun go down over the tombs.