One of the world’s greatest treasures reduced to rubble

By SARAH HARVEY

The Temple of Bel in the historical city of Palmyra, Syria, before it was destroyed by Islamic State militants. REUTERS
The Temple of Bel in the historical city of Palmyra, Syria, before it was destroyed by Islamic State militants. REUTERS

The world is witnessing the destruction of a historic treasure, after confirmation the main temple in the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria has been destroyed by Islamic State (IS) militants.

The United Nations confirmed the Temple of Bel, a more than 2000 year old structure, had been reduced to rubble after a massive explosion over the weekend. Satellite images confirmed the destruction.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) considered the temple one of the most important religious buildings of the 1st Century AD.

Palmyra is located in the centre of Syria and contains art and architecture from the 1st and 2nd centuries which combine Greco-Roman techniques with local traditions and Persian influences.

The archaeological site was made up of more than 1,000 columns, a Roman aqueduct and more than 500 tombs.

IS captured the Unesco World Heritage site from government forces in May. Before that time more than 150,000 tourists a year visited the site.

Maamoun Abdul Karim, the head of the Syrian Department of Antiquities and Museums, told the BBC the destruction of the Temple of Bel was a “catastrophe”.

“I feel very sad and I am very pessimistic… for the future of Palmyra,” he told BBC Radio 5 live.

“I am sure we will have more bad images [in the future] because these people… are ignorant, they are very criminal,” he added. “They don’t respect any image, any identity of the people.”

Another important site at Palmyra, the Temple of Baalshamin, has already been destroyed and in August IS beheaded 81-year-old Khaled al-Assad, the archaeologist who had looked after the Palmyra for 40 years.

IS has similarly demolished several ancient sites that pre-date Islam in Iraq, denouncing them as symbols of “idolatry”.

The sale of looted antiquities is one of the group’s main sources of funding. It has also been accused of destroying ancient sites to gain publicity.

 

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