Damascus: Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has blown up Palmyra’s ancient temple of Baalshamin that was primarily a Roman era artifact, built 2,000 years ago. While Syria’s head of antiquities said that the temple was blown up on Sunday, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that it happened one month ago. ISIS took control of Palmyra in May, sparking fears the group might demolish the Unesco World Heritage site.
A file picture taken on March 14, 2014 shows the courtyard of the sanctury of Baal Shamin in Palmyra. After the attacks that took place on Sunday, the temple’s inner area was reportedly destroyed and the columns had collapsed. Pic/AFP
End of an era?
The temple of Baal Shamin stood for nearly two millennia, honoring the Phoenician god of storms and rain.
Destruction of the site would be directly in line with the Islamic State’s campaign not just against people of other faiths, but against their culture. “Oh Muslims, these artifacts that are behind me were idols and gods worshipped by people who lived centuries ago instead of Allah,” one militant said of antiquities in Mosul, Iraq, earlier this year.
Doomed to dust
“Daesh placed a large quantity of explosives in the temple of Baal Shamin and then blew it up causing much damage to the temple. The temple’s inner area was destroyed and the columns around collapsed,” Maamoun Abdulkarim, Syria’s antiquities chief said.
Irina Bokova, the Unesco chief, said in a statement, “This destruction is a new war crime and an immense loss for the Syrian people and for humanity. Daesh (Isis) is killing people and destroying sites, but cannot silence the history and will ultimately fail to erase this from the memory of the world.”
A UK woman who fled to Syria with her five children to persuade her jihadist husband is now desperate to return to the UK. Shukee Begum from Manchester left last year and made her way into Syria via Turkey. The woman of Somali origin, is reportedly married to an IS fighter and claims she only travelled to IS’ self-declared capital of Raqqa, with the intention of persuading her husband, Muftah el-Deen, a jihadist, to return home with her. Her husband is believed to have died in conflict and she is now appealing for help to return home to safety with her three daughters and two sons, who are aged between one and 12.
Glimpse into Palmyra’s rich history
>> Listed as a UNESCO world heritage site, the “pearl of the desert” is a well-preserved oasis 210 kms northeast of Damascus.
>> Palmyra, which means ‘City of Palms’, is known in Syria as Tadmor, or City of Dates.
>> Its name first appeared on a tablet in the 19th century BC as a stopping point for caravans travelling on the Silk Road and between the Gulf and the Mediterranean.
>> But it was during the Roman Empire — beginning in the first century BC and lasting another 400 years — that Palmyra rose to prominence.
>> In the year 129 AD, Roman emperor Hadrian declared Palmyra a “free city”. During the rest of the century, its famous temples, including the Agora and the temple honouring Bel (Baal) were built.
>> Before the arrival of Christianity in the second century, Palmyra worshipped the trinity
of the Babylonian god Bel, as well Yarhibol (the sun) and Aglibol (the moon).
>> In the third century, Palmyra took the opportunity to declare its independence by beating back the Romans in the west and Persian forces in the east in a revolt led by Zenobia, who then became queen.
>> By 270, Zenobia had conquered all of Syria and parts of Egypt, and had arrived at Asia Minor's doorstep.
>> But when Roman emperor Aurelian retook the city, the powerful queen was taken back to Rome and Palmyra began to decline in prominence.
>> Before Syria's crisis began in March 2011, more than 150,000 tourists visited Palmyra every year.