Behind an archaeologist's last efforts to save Syrian heritage site Palmyra

Located in the Syrian desert, northeast of Damascus, the archaeological site of Palmyra contains the monumental ruins of a city that was considered one of the most important cultural centers in the ancient world. Its architecture combined Greco-Roman techniques and the Persian civilization.

Palmyra was an established caravan oasis when it came under Roman control in the mid-first century AD, as part of the Roman province of Syria. It grew steadily in importance as a city on the trade route linking Persia, India and China with the Roman Empire, marking the crossroads of several civilizations in the ancient world.

A large, colonnaded street of 1100 meters’ length forms the monumental axis of the city, which with a secondary colonnaded cross street links the major public monuments including the Temple of Ba'al, Diocletian's Camp, the Agora, Theatre, other temples and urban quarters. Outside the city's walls are remains of a Roman aqueduct and a huge necropolises.

The recognition of ruins' splendor by travelers in the 17th and 18th centuries contributed greatly to the subsequent revival of classical architectural styles and urban design in the West.

The site was designated a national monument and protected by the National Antiquities law 222 as amended in 1999.

The Arch of Triumph, built by Septimius Severus between 193 and 211 AD, was the symbol of the city, as a civil monument two thousand-year old inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

In May, ISIS militants have taken possession of the archaeological site, making it a symbol of their hatred against the West. Last August, they destroyed three tower tombs built between 44 and 103 AD. Just before it, the Temple of Bel was also destroyed on the same site. On Aug. 19, the militants beheaded the archaeologist Khaled Assad. The father of Palmyra has been tortured for a month and then beheaded, since he refused to tell where treasures of the heritage site were buried. His head was hung up from a Roman column.

UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova strongly condemned this terrible action: "This destruction shows how extremists are terrified by history and culture, because understanding the past delegitimizes their claims and embodies an expression of pure hatred and ignorance. Palmyra symbolizes everything that extremists abhor: cultural diversity, dialogue between cultures, the encounter of peoples of all origins in this caravan city between Europe and Asia. Despite criminal relentlessness, extremists will never be able to erase history, nor silence the memory of this site that embodies the unity and identity of the Syrian people. Each new destruction should encourage us to share further knowledge of the significance of this heritage. This is part of saving the city, and the global fight against the cultural cleansing that has plagued the Middle East.”

In the face of this war crime, UNESCO reaffirms its determination to continue protecting what can be saved, through a relentless fight against the illicit trafficking of cultural objects, by documenting and implementing thousands of networks of experts focused on this heritage’s transmission, even through technology.

With the aim of supporting this principle and paying homage to the courage of Khaled Assad, we want to spread here the video provided some month ago by 4 News Channel, which better explains what happened in Palmyra.

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