After the historical summary in the introduction, there is a short portrait of Giovanni Battista Borra, the Piedmontese architect who in 1751, after being hired as a guide for two wealthy kids doing the Grand Tour to take them out exploring the Levant, drew the first magnificent sights from Palmyra, later published in the famous book by Robert Wood, The Ruins of Palmyra, otherwise Tadmor, in the Desert. The story of the ancient Hellenistic-Roman city then proceeds between descriptions of monuments—the Via Colonnata, the Temples of Bêl and Baalshamin (blown up by ISIS), the funerary towers (now severely damaged by explosives after being plundered)—and slices of daily life in the ancient oasis: commerce, rituals and political intrigue.
Particularly striking is the section where Grassi describes the funerary portraits—around 3,000 have been catalogued so far—which show us the faces, the clothes and the jewelry of the inhabitants of Palmyra.
Finally, it was impossible not to have a section dedicated to Zenobia, whom the author calls “queen,” a title that has been challenged by scholars such as Maurice Sartre and Annie Sartre-Fauriat.
Even if the wife of Odenatus—a powerful member of the elite, loyal to Rome—was never actually a monarch, after the death of her husband she dared to face the Romans with the ambition to proclaim herself Empress of the East.