The upheaval in Syria has been going on for more than a year now, and in that time thousands of people have been killed, including many civilians and children. Syria’s many ancient sites are also getting damaged. Previously, we’ve talked about how the Syrian army has shelled the ancient city of Palmyra and the Crusader castle Crac des Chevaliers. Both of these are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, of which there are six in the country.
A report by the Global Heritage Fund states that these and many other sites and museums, are getting damaged and looted in the chaos. Sites like Tell Sheikh Hamad, pictured above in this Wikimedia Commons image. This Assyrian town was inhabited for several centuries and archaeologists have found numerous cuneiform inscriptions there. Recently it became a battleground between the Syrian army and deserters. An Assyrian temple reportedly collapsed when it got hit by shellfire and the rest of the site likely suffered serious damage as well.
The medieval citadel of Hama has also been shelled, as can be seen in the video below.
Besides the fighting, historic sites are getting damaged by troops digging trenches, tanks rolling over fragile areas, and snipers building positions atop historic homes. Not even mosques have been safe, with several historic mosques suffering damage.
Looting is also a serious problem since members of museum staff are often not around to guard their collections due to the fighting. In Crac des Chevaliers, looters kicked out the staff at gunpoint and started digging.
With no end in sight for the Syrian Civil War, it’s certain that more of the nation’s previous heritage will be destroyed or stolen.
Last year, Gadling’s Aaron Hotfelder braved the mountainous jungles of Colombia to visit Ciudad Perdida, the nation’s famous “Lost City“.
These remote ruins were built by the Tayrona, a culture that thrived from 200 AD to c.1650 AD. More than 250 of their stone settlements have been found in a 2,000 square-mile area. The Lost City is the largest Tayrona site known with more than 200 structures over 80 acres. One highlight is a strange carving, shown below, that appears to be a map of the city.
Unknown to the outside world until the 1975, the site now attracts an increasing number of tourists willing to make the five-day trek, and this is destabilizing some of the structures. Erosion and local narcotics traffickers are also taking their toll, Popular Archaeology reports.
Now the Global Heritage Fund has teamed up with the Colombian Institute of Anthropology and History, which runs the Teyuna-Ciudad Perdida Archaeological Park, to preserve the site. The area will be fully mapped and examined, and they’ll create a management plan to reduce natural and man-made damage to the site. One good aspect of the plan is that it’s incorporating the local indigenous people. They’ve always known about the Lost City and consider it sacred, so their input will be crucial to ensure its future.
Mari, in Syria, was one of the great cities of Mesopotamia. It was a trading center on the Euphrates River and was founded some 7,000 years ago. Archaeologists have discovered the giant palace of a Sumerian ruler, a temple to Ishtar, and a huge library with more than 25,000 clay tablets written in Akkadian cuneiform.
Now Popular Archaeology magazine reports that erosion and neglect are returning the city to the earth. The people of Mari built with fired mud brick, using clay that was cheap and plentiful along the banks of the Euphrates. Wind and rain have been picking away at the bricks for thousands of years, and it doesn’t help that more walls have been exposed by archaeologists. Dust to dust.
I visited Mari in the 1990s and it was one of the biggest archaeological orgasms of my life. To walk through a Mesopotamian palace, to visit one of the ancient world’s biggest libraries, and to stand atop a ziggurat all in the same afternoon is something you can’t do anywhere else outside of Iraq. It’s one of many outstanding archaeological treasures in Syria that are in desperate need of protection and conservation. Crac de Chevaliers, one of the ten toughest castles in the world, is also in danger.
Sadly, with the Syrian government more interested in killing their own people, I don’t think protecting the world’s heritage is very high on their “to do” list.
The Global Heritage Fund has released a new report that lists 200 World Heritage Sites around the globe that are in danger from a variety of threats, turning the spotlight on 12 in particular that could disappear altogether due to a lack of funds, neglect, and mismanagement.
The 12 sites listed in the report include Palestine’s Hisham’s Palace, Turkey’s Ani, and Iraq’s Nineveh. Hisham’s Palace, the remains of a royal winter retreat built in 747 AD and the ancient city of Nineveh are both under threat from encroaching urban development, while Ani, an 11th century city on Turkey’s border with Armenia, finds many of it’s ancient structures literally falling apart on their foundations.
Other Heritage Sites that make the list of “most threatened” include Mahansrhangarh, the oldest archeological site in all of Bangladesh and Mirador in Guatemala, which is a pre-Columbian Mayan ruin which sits in a remote jungle location. Haiti’s Sans Souci Palace suffered damage during the recent earthquakes that hit the country, while the Maluti Temples in India suffer from years of neglect. Kenya’s Lamu Village, Famagusta, located in Cyprus, Pakistan’s Taxila, Intramuros and Fort Santiago in the Philippines, and Chersonesos in the Ukraine round out the list.
The GHF’s report recommends that the countries in which these historic sites are located invest in restoring and preserving the ancient places. While those repairs could cost millions of dollars to complete, the sites could potentially generate that income back through tourist dollars, although UNESCO representatives say that caution should be taken when going down that road, as sustainable tourism is not always an easy thing to accomplish and there are a lot of factors to consider before proceeding.
One thing that everyone agrees on however is that these amazing sites need to be preserved for future generations to visit and explore. Just how that will be accomplished remains to be seen.