Ancient Ruins of Palmyra under Threat as ISIS Reaches City Gates

Can the 2,000 year-old Syrian heritage site be spared from destruction?

Ancient ruins of Palmyra
Photo via: Trek Earth

Fighters from ISIS have reached the gates of the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria, sparking fears that the 2,000 year-old heritage site could be flattened like Nimrud in Iraq.

According to Maamoun Abdulkarim, Syria’s director of antiquities, Syrian troops were battling ISIS fighters yesterday barely a mile away from the ruins of what was once one of most important cultural centers in the world, the Guardian reports.

“ISIS has not entered the city yet, and we hope these barbarians will never enter,” Abdulkarim told AFP. “We can protect the statues and artifacts, but we cannot protect the architecture, the temples. If ISIS enters Palmyra, it will spell its destruction,” he added.

The ancient city—described by UNESCO as a heritage site of “outstanding universal value”—was once a crossroad of Greek, Roman, Persian and Islamic cultures. Palmyra’s temples and colonnaded streets, dating to the first and second centuries, are unique testimonies of the crossover between those civilizations.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, ISIS has executed 26 civilians and beheaded 10 in the outskirts of Palmyra, also known as Tadmur. New York Times reporter Anne Barnard described residents in the area as being in “a state of anxiety and chaos” and trying to flee.

“If the ancient city falls, it will be an international catastrophe,” Abdulkarim lamented. “It will be a repetition of the barbarism and savagery which we saw in Nimrud, Hatra and Mosul.”

In the last few months, ISIS militants have embarked on a savage “cultural cleansing” campaign that has resulted in wide-spread destruction of pre-Islamic ancient architectural remains, artifacts and manuscripts across Iraq and Syria.

Follow Artnet News on Facebook:

Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.
Article topics