From Der Al Zor to Abu Kamal a continuous line of steep cliffs marks the boundary between the great Syrian desert plateau and the alluvial plain of the Euphrates. The ancient river valley sometimes found these cliffs an obstacle, and the river now describes big meanders from time to time - occasionally swinging out several kilometers across the plain. The international highway, from Baghdad to Aleppo, runs almost straight across the country - sometimes at the foot of the cliffs, sometimes along the waters edge.
At one point however, the mountain and the river meet and the road is obliged to climb steeply. In the center of this spur and right on the edge, overlooking the Euphrates 90 meters below, stands the fortified town of Doura Europos which was found by Alexanders lieutenant, Seleukos, in about 300 B.C. Occupied by the Parthians, then by the Romans, the town was closely linked with Palmyra which it served as an important forward line of defense against the Persians. It was captured and destroyed by the Sassanids in 256. A.D., shortly before the fall of the great Syrian metropolis itself.
The site did not attract significant attention again until 1621 when some mural paintings were accidentally discovered there, in a temple dedicated to the gods of Palmyra (at present in the National Museum at Damascus). Many other discoveries followed, notably frescoes dating from 243 A.D.; discovered in a remarkable state of preservation they too were transported to the Damascus Museum in 1936. Despite these transfers, for which there was a lot to be said, Doura Europos still has much to interest visitors. As at Halabiyeh further north, it is clear here how important a frontier the Euphrates was in the ancient world. Vast enclosing walls, with three fortified gateways, enfold within their towers a town extending over 73 hectares. These defenses, as well as the citadel right above the river and having its own system of rampart walls, are still impressively intact. By contrast there is very little of the town itself left standing. Sixteen temples of different religions have been discovered, the most important being the domestic chapel which dates from 232 A.D. A market and several baths have been located and excavated. Inscriptions, sometimes in three languages, Parthian, Palmyrene and Latin, have been found. At the bottom of the ravine between the town and the citadel the customs area, spread out along the bank of the citadel serves to remind us that Doura Europos was not merely of strategic importance, but that as guardian of the river crossing, it was also a halt for caravans and a river port on the silk route as well.
An attractive features of the place is that, like Rasafah, Doura Europos was partly built of gypsum stone - no doubt because it was considered to be a good insulator; the fragments that litter the ground glitter like a carpet of diamonds.
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