The ancient Syrian city of Palmyra, under threat from advancing Islamic State group jihadists, has withstood the last two thousand years with its immaculate temples and colonnaded streets. Listed as a UNESCO world heritage site, the ‘pearl of the desert’ is a well-preserved oasis 210 kilometres (130 miles) northeast of Damascus. Palmyra, which means City of Palms, is known in Syria as Tadmor, or City of Dates. Its name first appeared on a tablet in the 19th century B.C. as a stopping point for caravans travelling on the Silk Road and between the Gulf and the Mediterranean. But it was during the Roman Empire — beginning in the first century B.C. and lasting another four hundred years — that Palmyra rose to prominence. Though surrounded by desert dunes, Palmyra developed into a luxurious metropolis thanks to the trade of spices, perfumes, silk and ivory from the east, and statues and glasswork from Phoenicia. In the year 129 A.D., Roman emperor

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