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Environment / Climate change

Palmyra: the next ancient city threatened by ISIS

Back in March, we ran a piece about the destruction wreaked by ISIS on some of the world’s first cities in Iraq: Nimrud, Ninevah and Hatra. 


As author Paul Collins noted at the time, 

These acts are not only an attack on the people of Iraq but also on the roots of our modern, urbanised world. 

Now, ISIS seem to have chosen another ancient target: its fighters are just outside the Syrian city of Palmyra. At time of writing, it’s not clear whether they’ll enter the area and stage a repeat of their actions in the ancient Iraqi cities.

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Those actions involved bulldozers, sledgehammers and explosives. 

The settlement was founded in the 2nd millenium BC, in what is now central Syria, and is a designated UNESCO World Heritage site. Most parts of the city are in ruins, but aspects of the buildings and architecture (most of which is Greco-Roman) still survive. Syrian heritage experts say they’re less concerned about the ancient city’s artifacts, which are held in an adjacent museum and therefore more easily taken away or protected, than they are about preserving this architecture. Syria’s director of antiquities, Mamoun Abdulkarim, told AFP

Isis has not entered the city yet, and we hope these barbarians will never enter…. If ISIS enters Palmyra, it will spell its destruction. If the ancient city falls, it will be an international catastrophe. It will be a repetition of the barbarism and savagery which we saw in Nimrud, Hatra and Mosul.

Officials from 11 Arab countries are currently meeting in Cairo to discuss the destruction in those other cities, though Abdulkarim has said Syria was not invited to attend. 

Palmyra was the site of fighting during the Syrian uprising, though the damage sustained by some of the architecture back in 2013 was incidental. Unlike ISIS, the rebels had no obvious urge to systematically destroy the ancient city. 

Here are a few more images of Palmyra as it is at the moment. The city has been populated for nearly 4,000 years, and its ruins have lasted more than 2,000. Let’s hope they can see out this conflict and survive a bit longer. 

Columns damaged during the uprising. Image: Getty.

The theatre. Image: Jerzy Strzelecki via Wikimedia Commons.

The city’s main avenue, built during the second and third centuries.. Image: James Gordon at Wikimedia Commons.

UPDATE 18/5: Officials say ISIS have pulled back from the city’s gates. Talal Barazi,” governor of the province, told a state-run news agency that: “Palmyra is safe and the road linking Homs with Palmyra is absolutely safe.” 
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