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Ancient and Historic Sites

Syria’s future lies in ruins


To mourn Syria’s devastated archaeological and architectural heritage may seem trivial. Yet with it die precious traditions

…….. Today, as Syria faces the desperate prospect of an open-ended civil conflict, traumatised byits 20,000 dead and 250,000 refugees – the human cost of the war – it may seem trivial to mourn the speed with which its astonishing archaeological and architectural heritage is disappearing. But while the human pain inflicted by torture and killing is immeasurable, the destruction of a people’s heritage is irretrievable: once a monument is destroyed, it can never be replaced. With modern weaponry it only takes a few months of concerted shelling for the history of an entire people to be reduced to rubble.

Groups like the World Monuments Fund are monitoring the losses. There has been serial looting of Syrian museums and archaeological sites, especially from the museums at Idlib, Dura Europos and Palmyra. Terrible damage has also been done to some of Syria’s most spectacular monuments, such as the souks, citadel and Umayyad mosque of Aleppo, the ancient cities of Palmyra and Apamea, and several of the country’s crusader castles, including the greatest of them all, Krak des Chevaliers. The old city of Homs has been levelled, and with it two major museums, several early Christian churches and a number of Ottoman mosques.

As in Afghanistan, there is evidence the looting is highly organised. A Lebanese antiquities dealer recently told Time magazine that he was making a fortune from would-be Syrian freedom fighters who were selling him priceless Syrian antiquities for very low prices and buying arms at inflated rates. But an even more irretrievable loss than the antiquities (which potentially can be bought back) or monuments (which can sometimes be restored) is likely to be the ripping apart of Syria’s closely woven sectarian patchwork. Until two years ago, Syria was the last……

(images by C.Hopskins  2004)

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