Led by Queen Zenobia, a third-century ruler who was later taken to Rome and paraded through the streets in golden chains, Palmyra was a rich city on the Silk Road, a gateway to the West for travelers returning from the Orient. Under Zenobia's rule, Palmyra actually took territory from the Romans–and the short-lived Palmyrene Empire stretched from Turkey down to Egypt.
The Empire lasted for thirteen years, and then Aurelian decided to take it back. He defeated the Palmyrenes and took Zenobia back to Rome, where she was accepted into society and eventually became a lively and much-admired Roman matron.
Today Palmyra is a small town with a large and lush oasis next to it; the ruins of the old city cover the plain for a good square mile. Beautiful Romanesque columns carved from the local golden sandstone march down long avenues; in the early morning and early evening, the brilliantly blue sky contrasts strikingly with the warm tones of the stone and the long, deep shadows. It's an extraordinary place to visit, a reminder of a mysterious lost empire, worthy of pulp novels.