Ingrid D. Rowland at the NY Review of Books:
In September 2015, the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles acquired the first photographs ever taken of Palmyra, the great trading oasis in the heart of the Syrian desert. Louis Vignes was a young lieutenant in the French navy whose interest in photography earned him a place on a scientific expedition to the Dead Sea region in 1863. The twenty-nine photographs he made of Palmyra during his visit in 1864 (including two panoramic shots) were finally printed in Paris by the pioneering photographer Charles Nègre (who had taught Vignes) between 1865 and 1867.
With a history that extends back nearly four thousand years, Palmyra has risen and fallen many times. Its original name was Tadmor, which probably meant “palm tree,” an indication of the site’s renowned fertility. Both the Bible and local legend credit the city’s foundation to King Solomon in the tenth century BCE, but in fact it is already mentioned in Mesopotamian texts a millennium earlier. A spring and a wadi, or dry river bed, provided the settlement with water, making it a welcome stop for travelers and traders on the road between Central Asia and the Mediterranean Sea.
The population, almost from the outset, was a mixture of Semitic peoples from surrounding areas: Amorites, Aramaeans, Arabs, and Jews, who developed a distinctive Palmyrene language and a distinctive script expressive of their distinctive cosmopolitan culture, which drew from Persia, Greece, and Rome as well as local tradition.