Name of Site: Site of Palmyra
Where is it: North-east of Damascus, Syria
Why is it sacred?: The site of Palmyra contains numerous temples where multiple ancient gods were worshipped. Specifically, the temple of Ba’al, originally dedicated to Mesopotamian god Bel, or Ba’al, is considered a symbol of religious tolerance since later became a Christian church during the Byzantine era and then was used as a mosque until 1920s after the Muslim conquest1.
Significance: Palmyra bears witness to the different ancient – Semitic and Greco-Roman – cultures as a caravan oasis city on the trade route that linked the Mediterranean world to India and China. Based on this multicultural landscape, Palmyra developed unique artistic style which can be found on a number of monuments including the Temple of Ba’al, Diocletian’s Camp, the Agora, Theatre, and other temples in the site; architectural ornaments such as funerary reliefs exhibit the Greco-Roman art integrated with local traditions and Persian influences2. Palmyra is also a source of national pride for Syrians as it connects them to the past history and their ancestors. Salam Al Kuntar, a Syrian archaeologist and visiting scholar at the University of Pennsylvania, explained “Syrians consider Palmyra so special, because it’s a source of pride for them. They feel very faithful to this past history and the monuments and art that signify it”3.
The threat: Palmyra has been threatened due to the Syrian Civil War erupted in 2012 and the following destruction by ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant). It first had to face a devastating situation of military presence at the site as the violence spread across the Syria in 2012. An escaped resident of Palmyra described, “Palmyra is surrounded by the army from all fronts. Machine gun fire rains down from the citadel at anything that moves in the ruins because they think it is rebels”4 After ISIL took control of Palmyra in May 2015, the group partially destroyed the temple of Baalshamin and the temple of Ba’al in August despite the tremendous condemnation from the international community.
Preservation status: After the Syrian army, backed by Russian warplanes, retook the site of Palmyra in March 2016, experts sent by UNESCO are in the process of assessing the state of damaged ancient buildings in the wake of conflicts. In addition, the specific emergency safeguarding measures to be undertaken are being discussed at the 40th session of UNESCO World Heritage Committee5.
- “How ISIS’ demolition of a Syrian temple impacts the world”, Holly Yan, CNN, September 1, 2015. Retrieved from http://edition.cnn.com/2015/09/01/middleeast/syria-palmyra-temple-consequences/ on July 23, 2016.
- UNESCO World Heritage. http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/23. Retrieved on July 19, 2016.
- As stated in “Why Palmyra, Recently Liberated, Is a Historical Treasure”, Kristin Romey, National Geographic, March 28, 2016. Retrieved from http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/03/160328-Palmyra-Syria-Islamic-State-ISIS-archaeology-Rome/ on July 20, 2016.
- “Syrian Army Attacks Palmyra’s Roman Ruins”, Heritage on the Wire, March 7, 2012. Popular Archaeology vol.6: March 2012. Retrieved from http://popular-archaeology.com/issue/march-2012/article/syrian-army-attacks-palmyras-roman-ruins on July 24, 2016.
- “UNESCO experts take preliminary stock of destruction in World Heritage site of Palmyra, UNESCO News, April 27, 2016. Retrieved from http://whc.unesco.org/en/news/1488/ on July 24, 2016.