The ancient Greek and Roman city of Apamea, Syria

The ancient Greek and Roman city of Apamea, Syria

adventure travel & photography

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The story

During the second tour of Syria, which I led in October 2023, we had the opportunity to deviate from our planned itinerary and explore the ancient Greek and Roman city of Apamea. Although it was not originally included in our program, the recent opening of the area allowed us to visit this remarkable site.

Apamea, an ancient Greek and Roman city, has a fascinating history. The area around Apamea has been inhabited since the Stone Age, and the first city on the site was called "Pharnake". Later, it was conquered by Alexander the Great and subsequently renamed Pella.

After Alexander's demise and the division of his empire, Pella came under the rule of Seleucus I and was renamed once again. It became known as Apamea, named after the king's Persian wife.

Although Apamea's golden age did not begin until the second century AD, it flourished with a population of up to 500,000 inhabitants. After a devastating earthquake in 115 AD, extensive reconstruction took place, transforming Apamea from a typical Hellenistic city into a Roman one.

One of the most impressive features of the site is the Roman Great Colonnade, which stretches for nearly 2 km and ranks among the longest in the Roman world. It extends from the Antioch Gate in the north to the Homs Gate in the south. Additionally, the Roman Theatre, with an estimated seating capacity of over 20,000, is one of the largest surviving theatres of the Roman Empire.


The site of Apamea has been identified as the ancient city since the mid-19th century. The first archaeological exploration took place in 1928, initiated by Franz Cumont, who successfully persuaded Belgium to conduct regular missions there. These missions, led by Fernand Mayence and Henri Lacoste, comprised seven campaigns before the outbreak of the Second World War, followed by two shorter seasons in 1947 and 1953.

A substantial collection of objects from the site, including significant architectural and artistic artifacts, is housed in the Cinquantenaire Museum in Brussels, Belgium. This collection serves as a testament to the rich history and cultural heritage of Apamea.


When we visited Apamea, there were no tourists or other people around. It was a unique experience to appreciate the beauty of the ancient city without any distractions. However, at the same time, we couldn't help but feel the sadness of the ongoing war. The surrounding villages were destroyed. The road leading to the archaeological complex was eerily empty, as if it were a reminder that history does not always progress in a positive direction. Once a glamorous and prosperous city, Apamea now lies amidst the ruins of war.

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