Syria’s Archaeological Heritage Endangered By Fighting

In a sign that the civil war in Syria is inciting unrest in the region, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates are telling their citizens to leave neighboring Lebanon after more than twenty people including a Saudi, a Turk and several Syrians were kidnapped on Wednesday. A prominent Syrian family, the Mikdad clan, took responsibility for the kidnappings which have stoked fears in Lebanon that it will be drawn into the turmoil that has engulfed Syria since March of 2011.

Fighting between government forces and rebel fighters with the Free Syrian Army (FSA) continues in the capital of Damascus and in Aleppo, the country’s most populated city and a hub of commercial activity. Forces under President Bashar al-Assad have reportedly taken up positions inside the medieval Citadel, whose massive iron doors have been blown up by a missile. In footage filmed by Al-Jazeera, rebel fights spoke of the need to capture the Citadel.

Both Damascus and Aleppo are in “the richest cultural area of the Middle East” as Bonnie Burnham, president of the World Monuments Fund, tells the New York Times:

Among the significant archaeological sites endangered is the Temple of the Storm God, which dates from the third to the second millennium B.C. and which Ms. Burnham identified as one of the oldest structures in the world. Never opened to the public, the recently discovered temple and its huge carved reliefs are protected only by sandbags and a flimsy corrugated tin roof, she said.

Aleppo’s labyrinthine streets reveal a microcosm of human history. Beneath the Citadel are remains of Bronze Age friezes and Roman fortresses. The entire walled Old City, with its 12th-century Great Mosque, thousands of pastel-colored medieval courtyard houses, Arab souks and 17th-century stone madrasas, an Ottoman palace and hammams, is recognized as a World Heritage Site by Unesco, the United Nations cultural arm.

Looting could also further damage invaluable archaeological monuments and sites that have stood for centuries. Archaeologists had to cease working on the Temple of Storm God site months ago, as unrest grew in Syria.

A United Nations observer mission is to withdraw from Syria on Sunday when its mandate expires; the UN has said that this will not be renewed as the violence and fighting continue. Russia — which, along with China, has consistently vetoed UN Security Council efforts to impose harsher sanctions on Syria and demand that Assad step down – has said that there will be “serious negative consequences” from the UN pulling out.

2.5 million people in Syria are in need of aid, the UN’s humanitarian chief, Valerie Amos, said after a visit to Damascus this week.

Over 23,000 people have reportedly died in the conflict in Syria. Thousands have been injured, thousands displaced and become refugees in Turkey, Lebanon and other countries.

In the  New York Times, Ed Husain, a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, says that Assad’s father, Hafez, did not shrink from bombing mosques in subduing Hama in 1982, in a massacre in which 20,000 — some say 40,000 — perished. Tragically, history in the form of the killing of citizens and the destruction of priceless archaeological treasures is being repeated.


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Photo of Aleppo's Citadel by yeowatzup

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devon leonard
Devon Leonard2 years ago

I feel there is more going on in Syria then meets the eye.... It is another modern song of sorrow, death and destruction. I can only hope that the beauty of the ancient ruins will be spared this fate. I fear it is radical Islamist extremists that might end up in control there and I pray fervently that this will not happen. Freedoms the Syrians have would be taken away..... Such an awful ugly situation and so many innocent people suffering..............

Edvanir L.
Edvanir L.2 years ago

Sadly it always happens in case of war...

Rin S.
Rin S.3 years ago

Interesting, thank you.

Biby C.
Biby C.3 years ago

I hope these monuments won't go the way of the Bamiyan statues of Afganistan! Such a shame!

Jessica Larsen

It's always sad to see ancient monuments lost. Especially when it's deliberate destruction.
It was sad when that Italian castle collapsed during the quake too, but at least that was the forces of nature.
All those priceless buildings and artefacts...

Gene J, I don't understand that kind of view. Some things should be preserved for all of us, not just for one particular culture. That's what world heritage is all about. If we wanted to destroy all viking ships, I think the rest of the world would be right to react to that.

I agree with Elizabeth K's post

Duane B.
.3 years ago

As a species, will we never tire of war and violence against our own species?

Sue H.
Sue H.3 years ago

Wars have been destroying cities and heritage since the get go. Wish we could figure out a way to put an end to this kind of madness.

Elaine A.
Elaine Al Meqdad3 years ago

This is the oldest city in the world with heritage that goes beyond rich the only other place worse for this to happen in would be ISRAEL!

paul m.
paul m.3 years ago

It will get worse ,,,,

Vivianne Mosca-Clark

this kind of destruction has gone on for centuries. We have as a species lost so much information because of someone wanting to 'keep it' all.
Alexander burning the libraries, comes to mind. There are more stories like that one. Sad :(