Monday 27 July 2015

Historical Imagery - Dumeir: IWM German First World War Official Exchange Collection

The Imperial War Museum in London includes a group of photographs obtained by exchange from Germany after the First World War of places photographed by their personnel in the Palestine Front region: the GERMAN FIRST WORLD WAR OFFICIAL EXCHANGE COLLECTION.

This one (Q 86279) is labelled as ‘The Old Temple near Amman”. That is plainly incorrect and the environment suggests somewhere with modern use of mud-brick. Thanks to Rebecca Banks’ sharp eye, the correct identification is a temple - still well-preserved (till recently at least), at Dmeir/Dumeir northeast of Damascus.

Ross Burns describes the monument in the following passage from 'Monuments of Syria':
"It was dedicated as a temple to Zeus Hypsistos in 245 during the reign of the Emperor Philip the Arab (Emperor 244-9) who was born in the Hauran region of Syria (*Shahba)... There may thus have been some changes of plan during the long construction period. An earlier altar dedicated to the Semitic deity, Baal-Shamin, in AD 94 (now in the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris) indicates that a Nabataean religious building previously stood on the site.
The genesis and original purpose of the building are not clear. The shape is highly unusual. Construction may have commenced as a public fountain or as a staging post on the intersection of two important caravan routes (hence the quadrilateral plan and four entrances). Perhaps it was even an elaborate triumphal arch... The argument for seeing it as a temple, at least in its final form, is underlined by the use of corner towers and staircases giving access to the roof for ritual purposes in the Syro-Phoenician tradition... It was fortified in the Arab period; the arch on the rear wall [seen in this photograph] remains completely filled in with stones and defensive devices." 
Ross Burns (1999) Monuments of Syria: an historical guide (Rev. ed.), I. B. Tauris Publishers: London, New York: 115-116.
You can see more recent photographs of the site on the Ross Burns' website of the same name.

Photographs of the condition of the site after a period of bombardment in the current civil war can be seen on the website of the Association for the Protection of Syrian Archaeology.


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