The Ottoman-period mosque was built in the 16th century using stones from the Roman ruins of Apamea. It is located at the foothill of the citadel mound, just above the Khan, and was used by the pilgrims staying at the caravanserai on their way to Mecca.
IMPORTANT UPDATE: In March 2012, this mosque was damaged in the shelling by the Syrian government. In the footage I've seen, there was a big hole in the wall of the mosque.
The Apamea museum is housed in an Ottoman khan (caravanserai) located in the town below Apamea. The khan was built in the 16th century, with stones from the ruins of Apamea, and was used as a resting stop for pilgrims travelling from Turkey to Mecca. On my first visit to Apamea in December 2006, my travel companions and I were pressed for time so we chose to skip the museum. On my second visit to Apamea in March 2008, we arrived on a Tuesday when all museums in Syria are closed! Perhaps this is yet another reason to go back to Apamea... Luckily though, while the individual chambers were locked, the courtyard was open, so I was able to see some of the museum. For more photos, check out the travelogue: The Apamea Museum.
IMPORTANT UPDATE: There have been reports of looting in this museum during the civil war...
The Apamea Citadel, or Qala'at al-Mudiq in Arabic, occupies the top of a hill overlooking al-Ghab valley and the ruins of Apamea. This natural hill rises from the ground like a volcano, much like the one on which Aleppo's citadel was built. In antiquity, this hill was site of the Greek Acropolis of Apamea, but over time, its strategic position was desirable for the construction of a defensive fortress. Stones from ruins of the Acropolis, as well as from Apamea itself, were used to build this imposing castle. Even as Apamea itself declined, the castle remained important and changed hands between the Byzantines, Crusaders and Arabs. Under the Ottomans, it became an important stop on the route from Turkey to Mecca. Nowadays, the Citadel is inhabited and is a mere residential neighbourhood of the town below.
IMPORTANT UPDATE: In March 2012, severe damage to the Apamea Citadel was caused by the Syrian government's indiscriminate shelling.
Apamea's cardo maximus is most celebrated for its spiral fluting columns. Although a handful can still be seen in Rome itself, these famous columns are otherwise unique to Apamea in the Graeco-Roman world, and are found only in the middle section of the Cardo Maximus, to mark the location of the important Tycheion (Temple of the Tyche). The spirals alternate in direction from one column to the next, creating an interesting effect. I was fortunate to catch them on a sunny day when the shadows amplified the contrast on the spiral flutes, as seen in the attached photos. Some of the columns still support the small brackets on which statues were placed, a feature also seen in Palmyra's colonnade and is a Semitic tradition incorporated into Roman architecture of the East.
Rebuilt after the earthquake of 115 AD, the Agora, or the Forum, of Apamea was one of the city's principal squares. It is located west of the Cardo Maximus, near the middle section of the colonnade where the famous fluted columns are standing. It was a long and relatively narrow square, surrounded by colonnaded porticos, set parallel to the Cardo Maximus and is accessible from it through an impressive entrance with seven columns on either side. The outer walls of the Agora contained niches for statues, known as "Syrian niches" because they are unique to this part of the Roman world (shown in photos). Together, the entrance and the Agora itself formed an L-shape that enclosed the Temple of the Tyche, or Tycheion. Like many of Apamea's ruins, which have yet to be reconstructed, it is hard to distinguish the exact outline of the Agora, but the bases of the seven pairs of columns within the entrance are clearly visible.
Apamea's legendary cardo maximus is the longest and most beautiful colonnaded avenue of Antiquity. This north-south axis extends 1.85 km and was once bordered by 1200 columns, of which only 400 have been re-erected thanks to the work of Belgian archaeologists in the past century. Work to construct the Cardo was undertaken by the Romans immediately after the destructive earthquake of 115 AD, which had destroyed the older Hellenistic colonnade built under the Seleucids. Roman Emperor Hadrian commissioned the work, which began at the northern section south of the Antioch Gate and made its way down to the southern Emesa Gate by 166 AD. Behind the columns on either side were covered porticoes containing shops and entrances to palaces, temples and other important structures. When visiting Apamea, one must allow 2 hours of a leisurely walk back and forth along the picturesque cardo maximus. Or if you are lucky to have hired a driver, he could meet you at the other end to save time.
Located just south of the eastern side of the main Decumanus (now a modern paved road), the Theatre of Apamea was once the largest in the Roman world. It was built in the 2nd century AD against the sloping hill and its diameter measured 139 metres, much larger than the famous Roman Theatre of Bosra. Unfortunately, the grandeur of Apamea's Theatre is difficult to imagine for much of its stones were extracted and reused to build later-period structures, including the Ottoman Mosque and Khan (now the Apamea Museum). The impressive main gateway into the Theatre, though, is largely preserved (see photos).
This beautiful Propylaeum rises from within the rows of columns in the northern section of the cardo maximus. The purpose of the Propylaeum is uncertain but is thought to have marked the entrance to an important palace or temple.
Apamea's museum is housed in a 16th century khan. It contains an impressive collection of Byzantine mosaics removed from the floors of the city's buildings, including the cathedral. There are also stone sarcophagi and funerary stelae.
Its opening hours are slightly eccentric. But, there is always a guard inside. If you shout and hammer on the door for long enough, he will eventually emerge from his slumbers and let you in for a small tip. Actually, it is better to go there outside of the regular opening hours, because the guard will let you take photographs of the mosaics, which in regular hours is not allowed. Furthermore, he will be happy to accept only S£100 and you will have the place all to yourself.
Opening hours: 9 am-2.30pm. Closed Tuesday
Just north of the east side of the Decumanus (the modern paved road) is a group of Roman Villas. The three villas, known as the House of the Consoles, House of the Pilasters, and House of Graffiti, were excavated and partially reconstructed in the 1970s. The most intact is the middle one, House of the Consoles, with a reconstructed facade and upright columns.
A little to the south of the Cistern is what seems to be recently excavated structures. It looks as though they might have been residences, complete with multiple chambers and a staircase. Clearly this is an example of how much more lies beneath the grassy fields on either side of the Colonnade, awaiting further excavation.
Located just south-east of the Gate of Antioch are the remains of the Cistern - a water storage structure for the city of Apamea. Water was then distributed to the entire city through a complex network of water pipes. Some of these clay water pipes can be seen in the area between the Gate of Antioch and the Cistern (see attached photos). The cistern still seemed to be undergoing some excavation work.
The city of Apamea covers an area larger than that of intra-mural Old Damascus. Much like Damascus, Apamea was protected by a city wall that circled the city. The northern and western sections of this wall are very well preserved and still show the square bastions that enforced the structures. About seven monumental gateways served as entry points into the city. Only the Gate of Antioch to the north remains intact.
Located east of the Cardo Maximus, just north of the ticket booth, are the ruins of a Nymphaeum. It was a public water fountain within an exedra decorated with statues, though none of the statues remain onsite.
Rising 1500 metres, Ansariyeh Mountains are the northern extension of the Lebanon Mountain chain. They rise like a wall blocking inner Syria from the Mediterranean and form a beautiful backdrop to the fertile Orontes Valley. Apamea is graced with an unobstructed view of the mountains from the ruins. These mountains are known for the legendary Assassins, a Shia sect that engaged in guerilla wars against both the Crusaders and the Sunni Moslem rulers of the time in Syria. They gave English the word "assassin" which derives from the Arabic "Hashashin", or those who smoke hashish, as it is said the Assassins were known to smoke it. The attached photos are of the scenic mountains.