In 2008, friends said I mustn’t visit Syria. It was much too dangerous. The State Department was advising against it. But I was in Cyprus, a relatively short flight away, and I wanted to see the walled Old City of Damascus. I wanted to see the Street Called Straight, where the Bible said St. Paul, in the first century, had lived. I wanted to climb to the Krak des Chevaliers which Lawrence of Arabia had described as the beast preserved Crusader castle in the world.

I looked forward to wandering the winding souks of Aleppo and viewing the mosque where Zachariah, the father of John the Baptist, is said to be buried And although I have difficulty visualizing what once stood where ruins are now, I wanted to wander among the Greco-Roman ruins of Palmyra, the City of Palms. There, in 1929, excavations began that have unearthed colonnaded Roman streets and tombs and arches, funerary towers and pre-Roman temples.

Nancy Pelosi, then the Senate majority leader, had been a visitor to Syria just before I went there. That made me feel protected somehow. The granddaughter of my old East Chop friend, Jack Hathaway, had taught in Syria for a time and had provided me with the name of a Syrian friend. The friend had promised to help with my travel arrangements, and so I went.

As the civil war in Syria has gone on and on, I have often thought of the people I met on that trip, and have wondered what has become of them — schoolchildren who presented me with bouquets of poppies and ice cream cones, Aleppo University students who proudly took me to visit their modern dormitory room, a soldier guarding the elegantly decorated damascened blades and mother-of-pearl inlaid handles of antique swords in the Army Museum in Damascus, my driver as I toured the country and whose cell phone merrily played Jingle Bells. Sadly, I have no way of knowing about their fates.

And now the news has come that ISIS has captured Palmyra and its incomparable ruins may be destroyed. I remember how we traveled there through the desert, passing eucalyptus trees and pines and black-robed shepherds herding sheep. My driver wanted to know if I would like to take pictures of the shepherds and had stopped the car. It turned out that it was time for him to pray and he scrambled down to a stream to wash and came back for the prayer rug he kept in his van. So I took pictures of the shepherds.

It was just about sundown when we reached Palmyra. The sand in front of us was blue in the shadow of mountains and an Arab fort above the city. In the morning, I was awakened by the call to prayer and set off after breakfast to explore the ruins that stretched endlessly before me. Before the civil war, this was Syria’s most visited site — even more popular than the capital of Damascus. Palmyra is variously known as the Bride of the Desert or the Venice of the Desert and is renowned for its dates as well as its ruins. Indeed, its original name was Tadmur after its dates. On my way from my hotel to the historic site, I was besieged by date-sellers offering their fruit.

Most of the golden ruins over which I clambered that morning date from the second and third centuries. Then the city was an important stopping place on the silk route linking the Orient with Europe. Camel caravans laden with silk and spices would pass through and local merchants would tax them, bringing considerable wealth to the community and allowing for the building of the golden monuments I was seeing. Indeed, the Roman Emperor Hadrian is said to have once been a visitor. In later centuries, sadly, there were conflicts in Palmyra, and plundering. But for almost nine decades, the world has been able to view the architectural treasures long buried in the sands of Palmyra.

Now will ISIS deem this incredible UNESCO world heritage site to be un-Islamic, and therefore suitable to be destroyed?