The ancient city of Palmyra is an excellent representation of the human desire to preserve history and culture. You might be wondering why I take this optimistic view of the Palmyra ruins and all the destruction caused to this site throughout the millennia… The answer is that, after all the destruction it suffered, people always worked together to reconstruct it, to bring Palmyra back to life. And this gives me hope that, while some people (extremists) don’t value culture, there are many more people out there who care about our past and who are willing to work together to safeguard our World Heritage sites.
The site of Palmyra
Palmyra, ‘Pearl of the Desert’, a site located 210 km northeast of Damascus, was a very important city in antiquity. Historic accounts date its establishment date back to the 2nd millennium BC, followed by mentions in the Bible during the time of King Solomon. However, it was only during the 3rd century BC that Palmyra started flourishing. During this time, it acted as a major hub on the Silk Road, a trade route connecting Persia, India, China, and the Roman Empire. The many civilizations passing through this trading post heavily influenced its art and architecture. Owing to this, the site of Palmyra has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1980 as a key cultural center of ancient history.
Nowadays, this vast ancient site includes many ruins, mentioning below a few of them:
The Temple of Bel (top photo), dedicated to the Mesopotamian god Bel
Temple of Baalshamin, dedicated to the Semitic divinity Baalshamin
The destruction of Palmyra
We’re familiar with the news from the past years about the destruction inflicted by ISIS at Palmyra. Less familiar for many people is Palmyra’s troubled history. Being a significant establishment at the crossroads between the East and the West, Palmyra has suffered several conquers and destructions in the past. The major city downfalls occurred in 273 by the Roman Emperor Aurelian, the early 1400s by the Timurid Empire, each followed by its reconstruction. Its ruins were discovered in the 17th century, developing into a major touristic attraction of Syria due to its important historical and cultural contribution.
More recently, the chain of destruction at Palmyra continued with the capture of the site by the Islamic State or ISIS, first in May 2015 and then again in December 2016. During their occupation, ISIS caused damage to the Temple of Baalshamin, parts of the Temple of Bel, the facade of the theatre, the Tetrapylon, and several other tombs and statues, including a 2000-year-old limestone statue of a lion, the Lion of Al-lāt.
The rebirth of Palmyra
Following the recapture of the site by the Syrian army in March 2017, the site was subjected to extensive renovations. UNESCO created an emergency safeguarding for the Portico of the Temple of Bel, with a proposed budget of $150,000 for its restoration. Moreover, specialists at the National Museum of Damascus successfully reconstructed the statue of the Al-lāt lion. UNESCO and several countries offered to join efforts with Syria to help restore this historical site and its artifacts, thus revealing the global value of heritage. It’s only through joined efforts and working together that we can succeed in creating global change and protect our planet with its beauties, history and culture.
Let’s start the New Year with hope—hope that we’ve learned from our past mistakes and hope that we can create a better world by working together as a one entity—the humankind, and not as people separated by borders, religion, or race.
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”—African Proverb