Still from film footage of a camel race in Palmyra, Syria, during the Cromwells’ 1938 trip. Pictured are James Cromwell, Ruth Selwyn, Marian Paschal, and Doris Duke. (Doris Duke Charitable Foundation Historical Archives Photograph Collection, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina.)

Palmyra, May 20, 2015

Once a time for camel racing, now a time for holding our breath.

In the spring of 1938, with the design of Shangri La underway, Doris Duke and her husband, James Cromwell, visited Palmyra as they traveled throughout the Middle East—also stopping in Egypt and Iran.

Palmyra, 1938. (Doris Duke Charitable Foundation Historical Archives Photograph Collection, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina.)
Palmyra, 1938. (Doris Duke Charitable Foundation Historical Archives Photograph Collection, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina.)

Arrangements for this trip were made by Arthur Upham Pope, an American dealer, collector and scholar of Persian art. In each place the Cromwells studied, they filmed and photographed historical architectural details and provided images to the architects that would inform Shangri La’s final design.

While in Syria, Doris Duke and her traveling party spent a day observing camel races near Palmyra. Archival correspondence indicates that a tent at Palmyra was the direct inspiration for a leather and canvas tent (73.22a–j) custom-made for Shangri La by Damascus-based dealers Asfar & Sarkis.

Still from film footage of a camel race in Palmyra, Syria, during the Cromwells’ 1938 trip. Pictured are James Cromwell, Ruth Selwyn, Marian Paschal, and Doris Duke. (Doris Duke Charitable Foundation Historical Archives Photograph Collection, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina.)
Still from film footage of a camel race in Palmyra, Syria, during the Cromwells’ 1938 trip. Pictured are James Cromwell, Ruth Selwyn, Marian Paschal, and Doris Duke. (Doris Duke Charitable Foundation Historical Archives Photograph Collection, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina.)

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