Apamea (Afamia) is an ancient site in Syria which boasts a remarkable 1800 metres of dramatic Roman colonnades together with a range of other ruins. Said to have been one of the largest Seleucid cities and built in around the 4th century BC, Apamea flourished and thrived as a commercial hub under the Romans with a population of some 117,000 people.
Today, Apamea is an incredible site. Most of the remains are from the Roman period, yet there are also fascinating finds from the city’s time under the Seleucids including ruins of its defences, much of which have been restored.
After the region’s conquest by Alexander the Great, Apamea was founded as a Macedonian military camp around 320 BC. From 300 BC, then called Pella, the city was fortified and renamed ‘Apamea’ for Seleucus’ wife, Apama. Surrounded by lakes and marshes, Apamea was a strategic location at a crossroads of Eastern commerce, later expanded by Seleucus to home 500 elephants and over 30,000 horses belonging to the military.
In 64 BC, Pompey marched south from his winter base at Antioch and razed the fortress at Apamea when the city was annexed by the Roman Republic. Apamea held out against Julius Caesar for 3 years until Cassius arrived in 46 BC, but was briefly captured by Pompey and the Parthians in 40 BC.
Between 218 and 234 AD, the legion Parthica was stationed at Apamea after abandoning the usurper Macrinus for the emperor. However, Apamea was later destroyed by the Sasanian King of Iran, Chosroes I, in the 6th century battles between the Sasanians and the Byzantines.
Following the Muslim conquest of Syria only 20 years later, Apamea was partially rebuilt and known in Arabic as ‘Afamiya’. The settlement gained important under the rule of the Hamdanid dynasty and ruled by Khalaf ibn Mula’ib until he was murdered by Assassins. The city was destroyed once again by an earthquake in 1152 and because of the Syrian civil war, Apamea has been further damaged and looted by treasure hunters.
Today, many remains of the ancient acropolis stand, including the ruins of several highly ornamental temples. Apamea is still enclosed in the ancient castle walls called Kalat el-Mudik, although many of the excavated objects from the site are found outside of Syria in the Brussels Cinquantenaire Museum. One such treasure is the Great Hunting Mosaic from the Governor’s residence, dating back to 414 AD.
A highlight of the ruins is undoubtedly the Great Colonnade, once situated along the main avenue of Apamea and running for 2 kilometres – the largest in the Roman world. The colunnade was rebuilt after the 115 AD earthquake and ran between the city’s north and south gates, passing through the baths, agora, atrium and basilica.
Visitors should also not leave without seeing the Hellenistic style Roman theatre that overlooks the Orontes River valley, once able to seat 20,000 eager spectators and rebuilt under Trajan and Hadrian following the 115 earthquake.
Be aware the site is several miles wide, so take comfortable shoes.
Getting to Apamea
The easiest way of getting to Apamea is via hired driver from the nearby city Hama, which takes just over an hour.
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