Video: The photographs of Palmyra by Felix Bonfils circa 1867-76

The photographs of the Roman city of Palmyra in Syria were taken by Félix Bonfils (1831–1885), the most prolific photographer of the Near East in the second half of the nineteenth century. Bonfils’ extensive studio portraits and images of landscapes and architecture introduced Western viewers to the Near East and were particularly sought after by travelers to the region.

In 1750 and 1751, Robert Wood (1717–1771), along with the draftsman Giovanni Battista Borra and two young scholars, traveled throughout the eastern Mediterranean regions, including Syria. They took careful measurements and drawings of Palmyra. Robert Wood’s The Ruins of Palmyra, published in London in 1753, was the first systematic publication of ancient structures. It had a profound impact on the popularity of neoclassical architecture in Europe and the United States. For example, “Eagle Decorating an Ancient Roman Temple” was a model for the image on the Seal of the United States. The publication also includes depictions of Palmyra’s coffered ceilings, which inspired the ceiling of the north entrance of the Freer Gallery of Art.