Apamea, a gate to the glorious times

Countries are like men they have memories and reactions. Sometimes countries defend their selves, their history and their monuments, while on other times history itself can defend its country showing how important and how glorious this country was or will be.

Syria is the country with the oldest civilized ruins in the world. You might argue that there are many old and ancient sites all over the world, so why Syrians insist that they have the most unique historical and archeological sites ever? The answer is so simple… Syria used to be the main citadel and the main prize for the most important civilizations in the history of mankind.


Apamea or Apameia is the name of several Hellenistic cities in western Asia named after Apama, the wife of Seleucus I Nicator. There is evidence that the site was populated from Hittite times, but it became an important settlement only after Seleucus, a general of Alexander the Great, founded an empire which included Syria and most of Anatolia.

It is located on the right bank of the Orontes River, 55 km to the north of Hama overlooking the Al Ghab Plain. It has received many distinguished visitors: Cleopatra, Septimus Severus and the Emperor Caracalla. In the Christian era, Apamea became a center of philosophy and thought, especially of Monophostism. Most of the uncovered ruins in it date back to the Roman and Byzantine ages.

It is distinguished for its high walls and the main thoroughfare surrounded by columns with twisted fluting. The street is about 2km long and 87m wide. The ruins of the Roman theatre, which have been frequently disturbed, are now a great mass of stone. Its colonnade is 145 m long. Erected in the 2nd century, it was destroyed in the 12th century by two violent earthquakes; some columns are still standing nevertheless. To the west of the city, stands the Mudiq citadel which once formed a defense line along the Orontes. Fierce battles with the Crusaders attempting to conquer it took place in the 12th century, and Nur al-Din finally surrendered it in 1149. The citadel has huge towers, overlooking the Al-Ghaab plain. It also has a khan built by the Turks in the 16th century, and transformed into an archaeological museum which houses Apamea’s mosaics.


After exiting the town (Hama), the traces of cultivation began to languish, and you will see nothing but fine pasture land, covered with numerous flocks of goats, sheep and camels, belonging to the Bedouin Arabs, who had small encampments in the neighborhood. From Hama, the Orontes takes a westerly direction; then to the northward, and in less than three hours you will again join the river; you will enter a fine plain, which only requires the plough to render it very productive; if you proceed across a large plain, whose exuberance in wild herbs and flowers sufficiently announced the fertility of the soil. At the beginning of the XIXth century the plain of the River Orontes looked abandoned and unpopulated to western travellers, but in ancient times it was a very fertile land which supported the development of Apamea, a large city.
Apamea was an important military base for the Seleucid kings as it protected the way to Antioch, the capital of their empire. The citadel of Apamea was destroyed in 64 BC by Pompey, but the Romans promoted the development of the city in the frame of their overall policy aimed at expanding farming and increasing stable settlements as a mean to control the territory. It is thought that Apamea and its surrounding district reached 500,000 inhabitants at the beginning of the century AD.

On December 13, 115 AD a disastrous earthquake struck Apamea; at that time Emperor Trajan and his successor Hadrian were in the region and Apamea was soon rebuilt. Many honorary inscriptions celebrate Lucius Julius Agrippa, a wealthy citizen of Apamea who acted as ambassador of his city to the Roman Senate and to the emperor; notwithstanding his Roman name, he belonged to a very important local family.
The age of Trajan and Hadrian was marked by an extraordinary construction activity which included the first stone bridge on the Lower Danube and Hadrian’s Wall in northern England in addition to aqueducts, temples, baths, arches, markets and roads throughout the empire. Aphamea was rebuilt in line with this tendency to express the strength and wealth of the empire through gigantic public facilities.
The plan of Aphamea before the earthquake was already based on a grid, but this layout was emphasized in the reconstructed city by an impressive Cardo Maximus, its main north-south oriented street. The importance given to the north-south axis was due to the fact that the key road from Antioch to southern Syria crossed Apamea in that direction.
Cardo Maximus had a length of over a mile and it was flanked by two uninterrupted porticoes; their construction started from the northern gate and it was completed in about 50 years. A higher column or a tympanum indicated the presence of temples, baths or markets at the side of the street.

Northern section of the colonnade with central column and front of a building.
The wealth of Apamea resided in part in the prestige of an oracle housed in a temple to Zeus Belos (a deity having features of Jupiter and Ba’al). It is known that Emperor Septimius Severus used to consult the oracle prior to campaigning against the Parthians. At the request of the Bishop of Apamea the Temple to Zeus was destroyed by the troops of Emperor Theodosius in 384-85.
The site of Apamea was identified as that of an ancient city in the middle of the XIXth century, but the first archaeological excavations started in 1925; they have focused on Cardus Maximus where some 400 columns have been re-erected, whereas other parts of the city are still to be explored.

For photographers Apamea is the best place to show their abilities and gifts, you can shoot as many pictures as you can. The atmosphere in Apamea is so clear and refreshing. As for those who loved the unique and astonishing works of arts you should take field glasses with you to see the Sculptures on the top of the columns they are very unique and worthy to see. You might discover that there are no respectable public services, no good restaurants or even cafeterias. But never mind, the walk through the colonnaded street will be the best adventure you will ever talk about. One last note you will notice that the columns are not the same or let us say the columns are categorized according to the spiral sluts so each ten or 11 columns has different style…

Have a nice time there.


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