15 May 2015

Palmyra antiquities under threat from Islamic State

As Islamic State fighters close in on a 2,000 year old city which is home to one of Syria’s world heritage sites, there are fears they will destroy ancient artefacts if they advance any further.

The IS militants are fighting Syran government forces near Palmyra, and the country’s antiquities chief Maamoun Abdulkarim has warned that there is now a danger “they will destroy everything that exists there”. Although smaller artefacts can be removed from the site before an IS breakthrough, buildings cannot be protected.

Palmyra (Google Earth)

(Picture: Google Earth)

Palmyra, which dates from the first century AD, covers 120 acres and is renowned for its collonaded main street and the temple of Baal, is listed by Unesco as a world heritage site – with Roman architecture influenced by Greek-Persian and Babylonian styles.

Palmyra (Getty)

Roman ruins, Palmrya (Getty)

Director-General Irina Bokova said: “The site has already suffered four years of conflict, it suffered from looting and represents an irreplaceable treasure for the Syrian people and for the world. I appeal to all parties to protect Palmyra and make every effort to prevent its destruction.”

Palmyra (Getty)

Syrian policeman patrols Palmrya (Getty)

Palmyra (Getty)

The Great Collonade and broken monumental columns, Palmrya (Getty)

IS has detroyed ancient artefacts at several places in IraqNimrud, Mosul, Hatra and Nineveh – but this is the first time it has come close to taking over a significant archeological site in Syria. It would also be the first city to fall to the militants in a fight with government troops.

The fighting coincides with the release of an audio message from IS, ostensibly of leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who is reported to have been hurt in a coalition air strike in March. It would be the first time in months that al-Baghdadi’s voice has been heard.

Palmyra (Getty)

Funerary Temple at end of the Great Collonade, Palmrya (Getty)

Palmyra contains the monumental ruins of a city that was one of the most important cultural centres of the ancient world.

Syrian state media said IS fighters were being hit by air strikes, with a convoy destroyed to the east of al-Sukhna. Since March, the Syrian army and allied militia have lost control of wide areas of the north western province of Idlib, and also a crossing at the border with Jordan.

Palmyra (Getty)

Temple of Baal, Palmyra (Getty)

Palmyra (Getty)

Roman theatre, Palmrya (Getty)

Palmyra (Getty)

Roman ruins, Palmyra (Getty)