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Afamea is located on the right bank of the Orontes, about 55 km to the northwest of Hama.It overlooks the Ghaab plain.It was built by Saluqos Nikator, the first king of the Seleucids in Syria in 300B.C.He named it after his wife, Afamia.The city flourished to an extent that its population numbered half a million.As an Eastern crossroads, it received many distinguished visitors: Cleopatra, Septimus Severus and the Emperor Caracalla.In the Christian era, Apamea became a centre of philosophy an thought, especially of Monophotism.

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 2 km long and 87 m 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.

Here half-way between Misyaf and Jisr al Shoghour, the Ghab can be seen in all its lush new fertility. Wide irrigation canals now contain the waters of the Orontes which only yesterday flowed to waste in insalubrious marshland.

Behind a clump of trees the water tanks of a fish-farm give the impression of an oasis - a green spot amid the golden cornfields. As late as 1955, as one can see from photographs, the area abounded in pools of dirty, stagnant water, the remains of a fast lake much esteemed in ancient times for its stocks of catfish.

Heavily-laden lorries make their way slowly down the road, leaving hot furrows behind them in the tar which has melted in the heat. Most of them are making their way towards a great brown castle whose massive towers rise from high cliffs to survey the valley, at the point where another ravine joins it. This is Qalaat al-Mudiq, "the fortress on the defile."

Below the town, a vast (approximately 7,000 m2) square khan (or caravansary) with blank walls, built during the Ottoman era in about 1524, was once a haven to the caravans and pilgrims travelling up and down the natural corridor formed by the Orontes. One of the best preserved khans in Syria with its high vaulted rooms positioned around a huge courtyard, it has been classed a historic monument, restored by the Department of Antiquities and converted into a museum to house all the region's riches.

There are steep paths leading up from the caravansary to the ramparts and a little 16th century mosque, half-way up to the slope. But it is more convenient to follow the surfaced road as it winds round the town to the north. From the ramparts, the view of the Ghab's deep valley and the other steep-sided valley which earned the town its Arabic name, certainly makes the climb worthwhile.

A link in the chain of medieval fortresses which formed a continuous line of defense along the Orontes valley, the "fortress on the defile" suffered the same reversals of fortune as its neighbors, from the 10th to the 13th century. Like Shaizar to the south and Jisr al Shoghour to the north it was the scene of battles between Arabs and Byzantine forces, and between Crusaders and Saracens (Nour ad-Din finally recaptured it from the princes of Antioch, in July 1149). But the earthquakes of 1157 and 1170 did even more damage. The fortress was nevertheless restored at the beginning of the following century. Its square towers, the use of sections of columns to bond the stones in its walls, its steep even-sloped glacis- all these are characteristic features of Arab castles of this period. Only the ancient citadel where the population used to take refuge has survived until today, however. Other towns in the north of Syria (Hama, Shaizar, Homs, Antioch) were also destroyed.

This similarity in appearance and situation to other Syrian fortifications would lead to the neglect of Qalaat al-Mudiq (it is some distance from the main highways) were it not for the fact that it is also an important archaeological site and the living remnant, as it were, of ancient Apamea , a town with a along and glorious history. A Belgian expedition has patiently excavated what remains of this city, in the neighboring valley and on the plateau to the east of the medieval town.

The excavations here (begun in 1930 and continuing annually since 1965) have only partially revealed the secrets of the city, as yet. A casual passer-by would be quite unaware of the extent of work to date.

From the road even the scanty patches of wheat that battles against the thistles on these chalky slopes is enough to hide what has been uncovered of a city which used to contain up to 120,000 inhabitants. Originally known by the name of Pharnake , it was renamed Pella after Alexander the Great's victory at the battle of Issos in 333 B.C., in memory of his father's village in Macedonia. Several wars later, following Seleucus's victory over Ipsus in the year 301, the town was renamed Apamea in 300/299 B.C. after a Persian princess married to Seleucus . Ever since, the name Apamea has survived the ravages of time throughout the centuries.

It is interesting to pause a moment to consider the historical origins of some of the name of Syria's major towns. Antioch owes its name to Seleucus's father. Laodicea (now Lattakia) is named after his mother, Apamea after his wife, and finally, Seleucia after himself. Whilst these names may suggest a cult of the family, they also highlight the desire to Hellenize the conquered lands.

Apamea has seven kilometers of ramparts around it. The city's water-tanks were filled by an aqueduct 120 kilometers long. The theatre - with a facade of 139 meters - is one of the largest known. The Seleucide kept a reserve of five hundred elephants here, as well as a breeding stud of thirty thousand mares and three hundred stallions....

A crossroads for the East, Apamea received many distinguished visitors. Cleopatra came here on her return from a visit to the Euphrates, accompanying Antony who was campaigning there against Armenia; Septimius Severus arrived in 179, when he was legate of the 4th Scythian Legion and later, in 215, the Emperor Caracalla called here on his way home from a journey to Egypt. In the 4th century Apamea was still conscious of a pagan past, of the glory that her school of philosophers had brought to the city, and that despite the vigor of her bishops who were well known even in distant Constantinople. somewhat later the city became a center of Monophysisum, the doctrine denying the duality of the nature of Christ, which shook the Eastern episcopate to its foundations and led to the establishment of the Syriac-speaking Jacobite Church.

At the beginning of the 5th century, Apamea, with its view over the Orontes and the Ghab plain, was the capital of Syria Secunda whilst Antioch was the capital of Syria Prima. It was also home to the headquarters of an archbishopric. This period of peace and prosperity enjoyed by the town was not to last, however, due to a series of Persian invasions during the 6th century. Apamea was spared from the Persians' pillages until the year 573. It fell into their hands again from 613 to 628 and was to remain so until the Arabs "peacefully" conquered it in 638.

In 975 the Byzantines arrived and occupied Apamea for eighteen years up until 993. In 1106, it was conquered by the Crusaders. Forty-three years later, in 1149, the town was once again taken over by Nour Al-Din Ibn-Zanki.

Both a Hellenistic and Roman city, Apamea is laid out in chess-board fashion, like so many other imperial cities. The sitting of the various buildings and quarters of the city was determined in relation to the cardo, the central axis. Along this splendid thoroughfare which was lined with shops and linked the principal gates of the city flowed most of the public life of the city. The decumanus crossed the cardo at a right angle, usually somewhere about midway along its length and close to the agora or forum.

The cardo at Apamea was almost two kilometers long (1.850 m to be precise) and 37.50 meters wide. Originally 1,200 columns soared up into the sky. Quite a respectable boulevard for even a modern city! It was lined throughout its length with porticoes which rested on lofty columns. Monotony in the general perspective was avoided by subtle differences in the various sections of the colonnade; smooth columns with twisted moldings at the base, columns with straight or twisted fluting. All the capitals were elegant Corinthian ones.

This great colonnade was erected in the 2nd century A.D. and was still standing in the 12th. It took the earthquakes of 1157 and 1170 to demolish it. But dominating the tumbled ruins of the city, transcending the disorder, a series of columns with twisted fluting has been re-erected; their capitals and entablatures have been put back in place. All has become orderly once more, perspective has returned and reason and instinct are satisfied.

From the north gate, the Porte of Antioch , where an arch rises up out of a heap of stones, the route continues into a large colonnade, the northern part of which dates back to the last year of Trajan's reign (116-117), and which runs alongside the ruins of the northern baths built at the same time and divided into two parts: the warm and hot baths. Not far from here is the votive column posed on a triangular socle (14 meters tall). Apart from being useful point of reference on such along route, it also marked the intersection of the main avenue and another major street. Continuing on towards the town center, one comes across the bacchic pillar decorated with thyrsus, vine, and vine branch motifs. This once supported one of the arches which overhung the point where the side street met the main throughway.

The columns with cabled fluting date back to 166 AD. Three consoles, one of which no longer exists, bore the statues of the emperors Anthony the Pius, Lucius Verus and Marcus Aurelius Antoninus. Opposite these columns was the Tycheon, or the temple of the Goddess of Fortune, the guardian of the town. The agora, accessible via a monumental side entrance, was about 300 meters long by 45 meters wide. The northern facade rested on six magnificent bulbous columns whose highly-wrought bases seem to spring from stylized acanthus calyxes. It would seem that the agora was built as part of a move to reconstruct Apamea after an earthquake in 115. This reconstruction program continued throughout the second century. To the west of the agora lie the ruins of the Zeus belos Temple, frequented by the oracles. The nymphaeum ( a sanctuary dedicated to nymphs) opens onto the cardo. The exedra (a room for holding conversations equipped with benches) was decorated with niches that housed marble statues. Public latrines that could take up to 80 to 90 people were situated behind the nymphaeum.

To the east of the intersection of the large colonnade and the modern road which now covers the decumanus, are the ruins of a building said to have been a triclinium. The triclinium was comprised of nearly eighty rooms grouped around a vast peristyle and two interior courtyards. The sumptuous mosaics decorating the floors, including "Scenes from the hunt" (first quarter of the 5th century) now exhibited at the Brussels’ "Musées Royaux d’Art Amazonians" (third quarter of the 5th century) exhibited at the Apamea Museum, along with other rich ornamentation, seem to indicate that this residence was the home of one of the province’s top authorities, or even that of the Governor of Syria Secunda himself.

Right by this are the remains of the "Cathedral of the East". This was originally a martyr where the town of Apamea’s relic of the cross was kept. After earthquakes in the 6th century, it was developed into a cathedral and became the seat of the archbishop. A veritable Episcopal group was subsequently edified to house the entire religious administration. The mosaics discovered under the cathedral, notably the mosaic "Socrates and six of the seven Greek sages", now exhibited at the Apamea Museum, are significant reminders that Apamea was once a prestigious center ancient philosophy.

On the other side of the decumanus opposite the cathedral are the remains of the two houses known as "the console house" and "the pilaster house". A little further on are the vestiges of the "house with console on the capital" and that of "the stag", both private residences that testify to a surprising level luxury and refinement.

Heading southwards after crossing the decumanus, and a little further to the left of the cardo, is the church with an atrium (an interior courtyard usually surrounded by a covered portico). Destroyed by the earthquakes of 526 and 528, it was then rebuilt and expanded on several occasions. The rectangular-shaped reliquary caskets kept here were particularly interesting. The pilgrims used to pour oil through a funnel in the lid of these caskets which contained the relics of saints, and would then catch the oil in little cups on the side of the casket.

Back up by the intersection of the cardo and the decumanus, the vestiges of a church have been discovered on the south-west side of the cardo. This church known as the rotunda has a central ground plan and was probably built during the Justinian era.

Built during the second century AD, the theater, which has a 139 meter facade, was one of the biggest, if not the biggest in the whole of the ancient world. Thanks to the frequent earthquakes that have regularly shaken this region, all that now remains of the theater is a huge block of stone. The surviving part of the stage wall, the first rows of seats with their stones moldings and the south wall with a fine barrel vault that was once one of the entrances to the theater do, however, give some idea of the natural beauty of this great shell now bared open to the nearby fortress. Sadly, there is no hope that the theater will be resurrected from this chaos one day as, over the countries, the most beautiful and finely-crafted stones have been pillaged.

New discoveries, like the discovery of a monastic complex which is thought almost certainly to be Nikertia ( 4.5km north-east of the ancient city), continue to increase our knowledge of this town.

Nikertia in Apamea, founded about 370, played an important role in the spread of Christianity in Northern Syria, and then again in the following century (paganism having been defeated) in the doctrinal battles which marked the detachment of Syria from the influence of Byzantines. The monks of Nikertia founded numerous daughter-houses throughout the region. Yet the actual site of their headquarters had been lost. Today the walls of churches, monasteries and their dependent buildings can once again be seen on the bare plateau. Sarcophagi, door lintels and a chancel stone have been unearthed, all bearing the engraved chrism. The archeologists have also discovered a great olive-press and even olive stones-signs of the past fertility of these parts where not even stunted bushes grow nowadays.

The discovery of a "hoard" of 534 gold coins dating from a much later period has shown that it is likely that the site was still inhabited 45 years after Apamea had been conquered by the Arabs (636), and that Byzantine and Christian institutions persisted here into the second half of the 7th century.

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