Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Ancient Archaeological Site in Palmyra, Syria

Photo: View of ancient archaeological site in Palmyra in October 2007

The Palmyra saga is at least 7500 years old. The earliest documented name Tadmor was in use from about 2000 BC. Then the present name Palmyra appeared in the first century AD in the works of Pliny the Elder, and became popular in Greco-Roman world.

Both the names are related to palm trees which were plenty in the area, at least twenty varieties of them. Some of them are still visible as the site is nested in an oasis overlooked by mountain ranges in the Syrian Desert.

Since 2011 when the Syrian Civil War began, the area became the target of many opposing forces. As a result, this UNESCO World Heritage Site experienced large scale fighting, looting of artifacts and wanton destruction.

In the early days of the civil war, the Syrian Army men took positions among and atop the archeological structures to shoot at the Syrian rebels positioned at various locations around the city. Later, as the advancing Islamic State fighters took control of the town of Tadmur in May 2015, the government transported the artifacts from the Palmyra museum to Damascus.

The Islamic State forces entered Palmyra on 21 May 2015 defeating Syrian Army, and the Syrian Air Force bombed the site on 13 June damaging some ancient structures. During their occupation, the Islamic State used the Roman Theatre at Palmyra to stage public executions continuously since 27 May 2015.

The Syrian Army, supported by airstrikes provided by the Russian air force retook Palmyra on 27 March 2016. Apart from large scale destruction by the Islamist forces, the fighting also destroyed many structures.

However, all is not lost yet, as numerous historical structures are still unaffected.

Reportedly the Islamic State is fast losing many of its strongholds in Syria and Iraq, especially as they face elimination from their strongholds such as Mosul and Raqqah. It seems they are now in another attempt to spread out and expand. Maybe, as a part of that they recaptured Palmyra from the Syrian government forces on 11 December 2016.

And now the news reports say the government forces are preparing to fight the Islamist forces occupying Palmyra - the photo that you see here is of 2007, much before the reported destruction.

A good number of ancient monuments of Palmyra were bombarded and reduced to rubbles. How many more structures will be bombed and mortared? How many more lives will be lost? Only the coming days can tell.

Interestingly, after May 2015, a lot Greco-Roman busts and other artifacts including jewelry looted from the Palmyra museum appeared for sale in international markets.

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