Syria's ancient ruins lost forever? A survey of the wreckage

Published October 21st, 2012 - 11:17 GMT

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The destruction of people is ever present in modern day Syria where lives are lost at the rate of hundreds per day. But on top of the loss of human life there is another assault happening, this time on the heritage of this ancient country. Although the two do not bear comparison, both catastrophes are irreversible.

Syria is lucky to be the scene of multiple world heritage sites, including the entirety of old city in Aleppo. These are sites that have left stunned tourists staring in wonder at the beauty of the ruins, markets, temples and museums. Continue reading below »

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Dura Europos: built of the edge of multiple empires, these ancient ruins, found on the Iraqi/Syrian border are now prime targets for looters looking to make a fast buck. While they survived the fall of the Roman Empire, they are now at risk of being lost forever.
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Image 1 of 7:  1 / 7Dura Europos: built of the edge of multiple empires, these ancient ruins, found on the Iraqi/Syrian border are now prime targets for looters looking to make a fast buck. While they survived the fall of the Roman Empire, they are now at risk of being lost forever.

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Palmyra: according to reports coming from the Turkish border, Syria’s most famous tourist attraction is rapidly falling victim to local thieves. The museum has been looted and the temple and theater are falling into ruin.
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Image 2 of 7:  2 / 7Palmyra: according to reports coming from the Turkish border, Syria’s most famous tourist attraction is rapidly falling victim to local thieves. The museum has been looted and the temple and theater are falling into ruin.

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Ummayad Mosque, Aleppo: even this UNESCO world heritage site could not escape the war when it was set on fire earlier this month. Syrians blamed regime troops for using the sacred building as an army hideout.
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Image 3 of 7:  3 / 7Ummayad Mosque, Aleppo: even this UNESCO world heritage site could not escape the war when it was set on fire earlier this month. Syrians blamed regime troops for using the sacred building as an army hideout.

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Krak des Chevaliers: a crusader castle of fairytale-like beauty, ‘Krak’ was first attacked with artillery fire and then by looting as fighting spread to the Lebanese border. The unique 12th-century graffiti is also reported as damaged.
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Image 4 of 7:  4 / 7Krak des Chevaliers: a crusader castle of fairytale-like beauty, ‘Krak’ was first attacked with artillery fire and then by looting as fighting spread to the Lebanese border. The unique 12th-century graffiti is also reported as damaged.

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Aleppo’s souk: the northern capital’s ancient markets burned as battles spread through the city. Hardly your local shopping mall, UNESCO described the destruction of this world heritage site as a ‘tragedy.’
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Image 5 of 7:  5 / 7Aleppo’s souk: the northern capital’s ancient markets burned as battles spread through the city. Hardly your local shopping mall, UNESCO described the destruction of this world heritage site as a ‘tragedy.’

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Apamea: the beautifully preserved Roman streets were more used to tourist footsteps than tanks on their front lawn but that was the least of their worries when thieves broke in and drilled two meters into the ruins to strip out priceless mosaics.
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Image 6 of 7:  6 / 7Apamea: the beautifully preserved Roman streets were more used to tourist footsteps than tanks on their front lawn but that was the least of their worries when thieves broke in and drilled two meters into the ruins to strip out priceless mosaics.

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Aleppo’s citadel: shelled by government forces, the medieval fortress didn't stand a chance against modern warfare tactics. The iron gates are reportedly destroyed although no word yet on the 5,000 year old temple.
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Image 7 of 7:  7 / 7Aleppo’s citadel: shelled by government forces, the medieval fortress didn't stand a chance against modern warfare tactics. The iron gates are reportedly destroyed although no word yet on the 5,000 year old temple.

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Dura Europos: built of the edge of multiple empires, these ancient ruins, found on the Iraqi/Syrian border are now prime targets for looters looking to make a fast buck. While they survived the fall of the Roman Empire, they are now at risk of being lost forever.

Image 1 of 7Dura Europos: built of the edge of multiple empires, these ancient ruins, found on the Iraqi/Syrian border are now prime targets for looters looking to make a fast buck. While they survived the fall of the Roman Empire, they are now at risk of being lost forever.

2

Palmyra: according to reports coming from the Turkish border, Syria’s most famous tourist attraction is rapidly falling victim to local thieves. The museum has been looted and the temple and theater are falling into ruin.

Image 2 of 7Palmyra: according to reports coming from the Turkish border, Syria’s most famous tourist attraction is rapidly falling victim to local thieves. The museum has been looted and the temple and theater are falling into ruin.

3

Ummayad Mosque, Aleppo: even this UNESCO world heritage site could not escape the war when it was set on fire earlier this month. Syrians blamed regime troops for using the sacred building as an army hideout.

Image 3 of 7Ummayad Mosque, Aleppo: even this UNESCO world heritage site could not escape the war when it was set on fire earlier this month. Syrians blamed regime troops for using the sacred building as an army hideout.

4

Krak des Chevaliers: a crusader castle of fairytale-like beauty, ‘Krak’ was first attacked with artillery fire and then by looting as fighting spread to the Lebanese border. The unique 12th-century graffiti is also reported as damaged.

Image 4 of 7Krak des Chevaliers: a crusader castle of fairytale-like beauty, ‘Krak’ was first attacked with artillery fire and then by looting as fighting spread to the Lebanese border. The unique 12th-century graffiti is also reported as damaged.

5

Aleppo’s souk: the northern capital’s ancient markets burned as battles spread through the city. Hardly your local shopping mall, UNESCO described the destruction of this world heritage site as a ‘tragedy.’

Image 5 of 7Aleppo’s souk: the northern capital’s ancient markets burned as battles spread through the city. Hardly your local shopping mall, UNESCO described the destruction of this world heritage site as a ‘tragedy.’

6

Apamea: the beautifully preserved Roman streets were more used to tourist footsteps than tanks on their front lawn but that was the least of their worries when thieves broke in and drilled two meters into the ruins to strip out priceless mosaics.

Image 6 of 7Apamea: the beautifully preserved Roman streets were more used to tourist footsteps than tanks on their front lawn but that was the least of their worries when thieves broke in and drilled two meters into the ruins to strip out priceless mosaics.

7

Aleppo’s citadel: shelled by government forces, the medieval fortress didn't stand a chance against modern warfare tactics. The iron gates are reportedly destroyed although no word yet on the 5,000 year old temple.

Image 7 of 7Aleppo’s citadel: shelled by government forces, the medieval fortress didn't stand a chance against modern warfare tactics. The iron gates are reportedly destroyed although no word yet on the 5,000 year old temple.

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But civil war is not a time for the preservation of history, particularly when human lives are at stake. In desperation, looters have attacked the rich resources at the sites, looking to make a fast buck and escape the chaos via Turkey or Jordan.

When thieves are not attacking them, Syria’s ancient sites must endure the shells, bullets and fires as the battleground moves to their gates. Although many places have survived the fall of empires, they cannot withstand the weapons of modern warfare.

With some sites dating back more than 5,000 years, it is a tragedy of epic proportions to lose this heritage forever in a bloody civil war seemingly without end.

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