Now that ISIS has been pushed out of Palmyra, archaeologists are starting to assess the damage done to the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Many expressed relief that more damage wasn’t perpetrated, yet there were still significant losses: both the Temple of Bel and the Temple of Baalshamin were blown up. There are some landmarks, such as the Roman amphitheater, that remain intact, although worse for the wear.
ISIS captured the city last May, and claimed they wouldn’t harm the historical sites and treasures except for those dedicated to other deities, such as the two ancient temples. Yet they used the amphitheater for executions and also desecrated statues and tombs. They beheaded Khaled al-Assaad, a 82-year-old scholar who refused to divulge where he had hidden artifacts.
Much of the damage is irreparable, but as experts assess the situation, they hope some of the landmarks can be rebuilt. Archaeologist Amr Al Azm said, “…we’ve seen a lot less damage than expected. With the Temple of Bel – the damage is extensive. That was the most important monument there, and the destruction is almost complete. But the Arch of Triumph, for example, was partially destroyed, but most of the stones are still on the ground nearby. That’s much more feasible to put back together.”
In an op-ed penned for The Guardian, Professor Maamoun Abdelkarim, antiquities director for Syria, said “Our message to the world is to unite to save Palmyra…We are optimistic that we can restore this ancient city, a prospect that fills us with happiness and joy, despite the war we are still living through.”
Abdelkarim said experts would visit the site soon to develop plans for reconstruction. Palmyra’s vibrant history includes the distinction of being a key cultural center in the first and second centures. It stands on the ancient silk road, and was a meeting place for people from many different cultures. Its art blends Graeco-Roman and Persian influences.