Experts: Palmyra’s dynamited temple can be restored

An image distributed by Islamic State militants on social media on August 25, 2015 purports to show the destruction of a Roman-era temple in the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra. (File photo: Reuters)

Palmyra’s renowned Temple of Bel, blown up by ISIS last year, is not beyond repair but the full extent of damage in the ancient city could take weeks to establish because of mines laid amid the ruins, Syria’s antiquities chief said.

Satellite pictures taken after the 2,000-year-old temple was dynamited by the group, and other images broadcast since Syrian government forces retook the city on Sunday, show almost the entire structure collapsed in a heap of rubble.

It was one of several important monuments blown up in the city last year including the temple of Baal Shamin, a victory arch and funerary towers. The city museum, home to treasured artifacts, was ransacked and statues were smashed or defaced.

Despite the extensive damage, Maamoun Abdelkarim said that the Temple of Bel had not been pulverized and its foundations were largely intact.

Consecrated to a Mesopotamian god, the Temple of Bel later served as a Christian church and a mosque. In an inner sanctuary, carvings showed seven planets surrounded by the signs of the zodiac, and a procession of camels and veiled women.

“What was said about it all being turned to dust - it’s not dust,” Abdelkarim told Reuters in Damascus. “There is still a lot of the structure ... that can be reused and renovated.”

He was speaking before a trip to Paris where he said he would attend a meeting of the United Nations cultural agency UNESCO and seek global help to restore Palmyra. President Bashar al-Assad called on the world on Wednesday to help.

Syrian military engineers were already combing the area for mines which ISIS are suspected of leaving behind amid the ruins, he said.

Russian de-mining units, using robots and sniffer dogs, have also arrived in Syria to start clearing the area, in the latest support from Moscow to Assad, its Middle Eastern ally.

Russia’s military intervention six months ago helped change the course of Syria’s five-year-old conflict in Assad’s favor, reversing last year’s gains by insurgents and Western-backed rebels in northwest Syria, before assisting an assault on Palmyra opening up Syria’s eastern desert to government forces.

The Western response to Sunday’s recapture of Palmyra has been muted. While some governments have welcomed the setback for ISIS, they are reluctant to celebrate any victory for a president whose departure many of them demanded five years ago.

SHOW MORE
Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:50 - GMT 06:50
Top