This heritage house in Bosra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was allegedly destroyed by the Syrian military. Photo: PAS
Since the violent uprising that erupted in Syria over a year ago, the country’s rich and complex cultural heritage has come under heavy fire. With few exceptions, archaeologists have been left merely to guess at the damage to these ancient sites. Now, however, thanks to a comprehensive report by Emma Cunliffe, a 2010 Global Heritage Preservation Fellow and current PhD researcher at Durham University, much more is known about the conflict-related damage suffered by Syria’s heritage sites.
“In the wake of the fragile ceasefire, cultural heritage experts and organisations are now beginning taking stock of the damage,” Cunliffe writes in the introduction to Damage to the Soul: Syria’s Cultural Heritage in Conflict. “Concerned citizens within the country, expatriates and heritage organisations are monitoring the damage as best they can and sending as much information as possible to the outside world. This report represents a summary of the available information.”
Damage to the Soul is split into two main sections. The first describes various conflict-related activities that have directly or indirectly damaged cultural sites, including shelling, gunfire, army occupation, terrorism, looting, uncontrolled/illegal construction and demolition. The second section documents damage to specific sites, including all six of Syria’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites — Aleppo, Ancient Villages of Northern Syria, Bosra, Crac des Chevaliers, Damascus and Palmyra — and numerous World Heritage Tentative List and National Heritage sites.
Video footage shows shelling damage to the citadel of Qal’at al-Mudiq. Image: Youtube
Photos and links to videos show shelling and gunfire damage to the Ancient Villages (inscribed to the World Heritage List less than a year ago) with buildings turned to rubble and ruins toppled for use as road blocks. At Apamea, one video shows tanks shelling the ancient Greek colonnade where hundreds of columns had previously been restored and re-erected, while others show the prolonged shelling that has devastated the citadel of Qal’at al-Mudiq. At Palmyra, one of Syria’s most important ancient cities, security forces set up in the citadel overlooking the town and nearby Roman ruins and blast the landscape with tank and machine gun fire.
Cunliffe was awarded a Global Heritage Preservation Fellowship in 2010 for her ongoing research in Syria. Since then, she has documented threats to Syria’s ancient sites as an active member of Global Heritage Network (GHN).
“The destruction of cultural heritage has been committed (intentionally or otherwise) by those on all sides of this conflict, whether out of a desire for the protection of strong citadel walls, or in the hunting of those in opposition to them,” Cunliffe writes in her conclusion. “Others watch opportunistically from the outside, and have crept in to steal a heritage which does not belong to them, for a market which seeks only to profit from the others’ loss… In the face of the blame, and the hatred, it becomes all the more important to remember those in Syria who have worked for years to preserve the treasures of the past, and to pay tribute to those who struggle still to get their messages out, and to protect the heritage of Syria.”
Click here to read Damage to the Soul: Syria’s Cultural Heritage in Conflict