It's an early start on the road out of Damascus. We're heading to Palmyra, the ancient trading city in the middle of the Syrian desert. It's a 200km journey which, according to the signage, is coincidently the distance to Baghdad.

The "Bagdad Cafe" is apparently one of three identically named Bedouin-run stops on the road to Palmyra. We pause for a cup of tea, before finally reaching the first stop of the day, the Valley of the Tombs outside Palmyra. This necropolis outside Palmyra turns out to be the first site available for separating the tourists from their money and all manner of optimistically priced tat is on show.

The flagship tomb - the Tower Tomb - is only open for a few brief periods a day, so it's our first, fairly crowded, stop. The tour takes in a couple of the smaller tombs, most of which are in a fairly poor state of repair. Anything with a face has been smashed in order to avoid the temptation to worship it.

After lunch, we head across to the remains of the vast Temple of Ba'al at Palmyra, an extremely important religious centre for the ancient caravan routes between Persia and the Mediterranean ports.

Everything about the temple is big, from the imposing Holy of Holies in the centre to the channel under the high altar for draining away the large volumes of blood.

After the Baal temple, it's time for the main event, the ancient Roman town. While it's not that well preserved, the existing structures are impressive and serve to underline the scale of the place when it was built.

The most impressive feature of the Roman city is the theatre, which is still in excellent condition.

After touring the city, we're taken up Qala'at ibn Maan, the 17th century castle on a hill overlooking the city, for a sunset view of the ruins.

The evening is spent in the modern part of Palmyra, a small town which exists largely to extract money from tourists. We pick an establishment which promises Genuine Bedouin Food in the shape of mansaf.

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