Palmyra residents say the Syrian army has set up camp in this historic citadel that overlooks the city of 60,000 people and its adjacent Roman ruins. Photo: Barbara Boranga
Since the violence that erupted in Syria nearly one year ago — a war that has so far left thousands dead and become one of the world’s biggest stories — the damage to the country’s ancient cities and cultural sites as a result of the conflict has remained largely unknown.
One report to surface last week, however, tells the story of Palmyra, where residents say the Syrian Army has set up camp in a citadel that overlooks both the modern city of 60,000 and the adjacent Roman ruins. Before the uprising, Palmyra was one of Syria’s biggest tourism attractions. Over the past month, though, hundreds of people have fled the city for safety.
“Palmyra is surrounded by the army from all fronts: the Arab citadel, the olive and palm tree groves, the desert, the city,” an escaped resident told the Agence France-Presse. “Machine gun fire rains down from the citadel at anything that moves in the ruins because they think it is rebels.”
The Syrian army has been firing from Palmyra’s hill-top citadel (seen in the distance) into the ancient ruins. Photo: Jeff Werner
Palmyra, once known as the “Bride of the Desert,” stood at the crossroads of several civilizations and was an important caravan stop on the Silk Road. Inscribed to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1980, its monumental ruins include a unique collection of Greco-Roman art and architecture fused with local traditions and Persian influences.
Until February, Palmyra had been spared the deadly violence that has spread across Syria. But since national security forces arrived in the city, residents who have managed to escape have spoken of daily machine gun and tank fire.
War and conflict are certainly not the first threats to Syria’s cultural heritage sites, but reports of actual gunfire on the ruins is a grave concern. As with last year’s conflicts in Libya and Egypt, status updates for other cultural sites are sure to remain rare until stability can be reestablished. Based on the level of carnage reported so far, one can only hope a resolution comes as quickly as possible.
Click here to explore Palmyra on Global Heritage Network (GHN)