Numerous countries pledge to rebuild Palmyra: Russia expected to reconstruct key areas

Published May 15th, 2016 - 04:00 GMT
Russian music concert in the ancient theater of Syria's ravaged city of Palmyra on May 6, 2016. (AFP/Louai Beshara)
Russian music concert in the ancient theater of Syria's ravaged city of Palmyra on May 6, 2016. (AFP/Louai Beshara)

Two months after Syrian regime forces ousted Daesh from the ancient city of Palmyra in the Syrian desert, several countries have offered to help rebuild the world heritage site destroyed at the hands of the extremists.

The list includes Peru, Bahrain, Austria, Greece, Italy, and Russia, whose army played a crucial role in the liberation of the city last March.

A French company specialised in digitisation of vulnerable archaeological sites has already visited the city to assess the damage. There is no final figure as to how much rebuilding Palmyra would cost or how long it would take, with estimations ranging anywhere between three-ten years.

Moscow will probably be awarded the honour of rebuilding the Arch of Triumph, a magnificent monument dynamited by Daesh last October, once linking the main street of the Colonnade and the Roman Temple of Bel.

It was to the people of Syria what its namesake was to the people of Paris; a tourist attraction and source of pride.

Russia, which staged a major concert in Palmyra on May 6, sees the desert city as a symbol of its strength and influence in the new Middle East.

Other destroyed parts of Palmyra will probably be handled by Russia's allies.

Two Polish experts from the University of Warsaw have already arrived in Palmyra, having first visited the city back in 2005 to restore its famous 15-tonne lion statue, called Lion of Al Lat, located at the city museum's main entrance. The statue of a pre-Islamic Palmyra goddess, dates back to the 1st century and was destroyed by Daesh last June.

The Polish archaeologists returned to Palmyra, at the invitation of the state-run Directorate of Antiquities, to find the statue smashed into pieces, scattered all over the city.

They were collected in tiny pieces and large stone slabs, inventoried, boxed, and shipped to Damascus for restoration. They wrote that the statue could be restored to its previous shape, but the most difficult parts to piece back would be around its nostrils.

Five major sites were destroyed in Palmyra by Daesh during their 10-month rule of the ancient Syrian city.

They are the temples of Bel and Baalshamin, the Arch of triumph, the Valley of Tombs, and the Palmyra Museum.

According to the Directorate of Antiquities, the two temples are "not beyond repair" as most of their fragments are still scattered around the war-torn city; they can still be found and pieced together.

It would take anywhere between three to five years to restore them, he added.

The same cannot be said of the city's museum, which was destroyed by mortars, smashed, and looted by Daesh.

It currently lies beneath a pile of garbage and debris. Most of the 200 objects on display at the museum's ground floor have been completely destroyed, apparently with hard tools and sledge hammers.

Many of the statues were decapitated and their hands were chopped off. Major damage was also found at the Fakhr Al Din Al Maani Castle, a Mamluk-era fortress located on a hill overlooking the city. The castle, labelled a World Heritage Site by Unesco, was used by Daesh fighters, thanks to its fortification and high walls, to fight off government troops last March, and it was heavily damaged by the fighting. The staircase leading to its entrance has collapsed, and so has its eastern tower. Ironically only the famous Roman amphitheatre remained untouched by Daesh. At the orders of its self-proclaimed "caliph" Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, Daesh executed no less than 280 civilians — mainly residents of Palmyra who refused to leave — at the very same theatre and filmed the grotesque scenes to send shivers down the spine of Palmyra. Leaflets and papers with the black & white logo of the so-called 'Islamic State' (Daesh) could still be found in between the ruins and in the now abandoned government agencies of Palmyra.

Despite the horror of what happened to Palmyra, only 20 per cent of the city's archaeological architecture was destroyed by Daesh, according to the Syrian Directorate of Antiquities.

Before the full restoration starts, however, the Syrian Government has to demine the city and restore water and electricity. Russian experts are already working round the clock removing explosives scattered by Daesh in the residential parts of Palmyra, while government troops are protecting the city's outskirts, fearing a surprise attack by Daesh, which still controls the fields in Palmyra's countryside and the nearby town of Al Sukhneh.

On May 5, the St Petersburg Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra performed at the Palmyra Theatre, led by world-acclaimed conductor Valery Gergiev. President Vladimir Putin took centre stage via satellite, addressing the crowd from Kremlin and thanking his troops for helping liberate Palmyra.

On the next day marking Syria's 100th Martyr's Day Anniversary, an assortment of musicians and singers took the stage in Palmyra, performing a live concert attended by Syrian and Russian officials.

By Sami Moubayed 


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