Apamea is an ancient city located on the right bank of the Orontes river about 55 km northwest of Hama, Syria. It overlooks the Ghab valley and is notable for its exceptionally long Roman street, lined with classical columns.
Before it became the major Hellenistic city of Apamea, this was a small town known as Pharmake. It is thought to be identical with the biblical Shepham.
Apamea was founded in 300 BC by Seleucus Nicator, one of Alexander the Great's generals and the first king of the Seleucids in Syria. He named it after his Bactrian wife, Apame. The beautiful new Hellenistic city soon flourished, becoming one of the three main cities of the Seleucid Empire (with Antioch on the Orontes and Seleucia on the Tigris). Its population numbered half a million.
Pompey made Apamea part of the Roman Empire in 64 BC, and it was in the Roman period that much of what remains today was built. As an Eastern crossroads, Apamea received many distinguished visitors, including Cleopetra, Septimus Severus and the Emperor Caracalla.
On the outbreak of the Jewish Revolt in the 1st century AD, the inhabitants of Apamea spared the Jews who lived in their midst, and would not allow them them to be murdered or led into captivity (Josephus, Jewish Wars 2.18.5).
In the Christian era, Apamea became a center of philosophy and theology, especially of Monophysitism (the doctrine that Christ has only one nature, which is essentially divine).
Famous residents of Apamea include:
The last bit of building work was done on Apamea in the 6th century after the Byzantines recovered it from the Persians. But it was easily conquered during the 7th-century Islamic conquest and continued to decline under Arab rule. The ancient fortified acropolis was used by the Hamdanids in Aleppo as an outpost.
Trancred took Apamea from the Fatimids in 1106 and the Crusaders (who called it Femia) kept it until 1149, when Nur Al Din reconquered it. In 1157 Apamea was devastated by a large earthquake. Incredibly, despite this turbulent history, a remarkable number of columns remain in place on the ancient Roman street of Apamea.
What to See
Most of the excavated ruins enjoyed by modern visitors to Apamea date from the Roman and Byzantine periods. Apamea is especially distinguished for its high walls and the main thoroughfare surrounded by columns with twisted fluting. The street, known as the Cardo Maximus to the Romans, is 1.85 km long and 87 meters wide, running directly from north to south. It was lined on both sides with civic and religious buildings.
On the road that leads to Khan Sheikhoun is a site with remains of Roman and Byzantine residences. In the opposite direction lies the ruin of a classical theater, and further on a museum housed in a 16th-century Turkish caravanserai used on the pilgrimage route. This museum contains beautiful mosaics collected from Apamea, including one of Socrates and the Sages. There are also some funerary stelae, a sarcophagus with Latin inscriptions, and 15,000 cuneiform clay tablets.