Hassan Hassan writes: Amid the horrors that Islamic State has unleashed across the Middle East, many observers are holding their breath as they contemplate the fate of one of the world’s most cherished cultural sites.
The clock is ticking for the Roman world heritage site at Palmyra, in central Syria. After Isis obliterated the historical Assyrian city of Nimrud in Iraq last month, many fear a similar fate awaits the ruins after the group seized Palmyra from the Assad regime.
The city was once a Silk Road hub and one of the cultural centres of the ancient world. It has mythological status in Syria and is home to some of the most beautiful and well-preserved ruins of antiquity, including the Temple of Bel, built in the first century.
The Observer’s architecture critic, Rowan Moore, says the ancient Roman site is “exceeded by very few others: those in Rome itself, Pompeii, possibly Petra in Jordan. Its temples, colonnades and tombs, its theatre and streets are extensive, exquisite, distinctive, rich. The loss of Palmyra would be a cultural atrocity greater than the destruction of the buddhas in Bamiyan.”
So what is the logic behind such destruction? And how likely is it to occur? Warnings about the fate of Palmyra might do more harm than good. Most of the historical sites in Isis territory in Iraq and Syria remain intact. In March, the group even released a photo essay of historical sites in Raqqa, Syria.
The ruins at Palmyra would not normally qualify for destruction by Isis, but the attention drawn to the site might tempt the group to destroy them as a way to inflict psychological pain. [Continue reading…]