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Wednesday, February 10, 2021


Located in the northeast of Damascus, Palmyra contains the monumental ruins of what was once a great oasis city in the Syrian desert nest known for being one of the most important cultural centers of the ancient world. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the architecture of this civilization often combined Greco-Roman and Persian influences with local traditions. 

However, the site had been targeted for deliberate destruction by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and in 2014, much of the city and nearby historic religious buildings were damaged. Over the course of 2015, ISIL (also referred to as ISIS) destroyed the ancient Lion of Al-lāt statue, The Temple of Baalshamin, The Monumental Arch, and the Tower of Elahbel, among many other historic sites. 

First mentioned in the archives of Mari in the 2nd millennium BC, Palmyra was an established caravan oasis when it came under Roman control in the mid-first century AD as part of the Roman province of Syria. It grew steadily in importance as a city on the trade route linking Persia, India and China with the Roman Empire, marking the crossroads of several civilisations in the ancient world. 

A grand, colonnaded street of 1100 metres' length forms the monumental axis of the city, which together with secondary colonnaded cross streets links the major public monuments including the Temple of Ba'al, Diocletian's Camp, the Agora, Theatre, other temples and urban quarters. 

Architectural ornament including unique examples of funerary sculpture unites the forms of Greco-roman art with indigenous elements and Persian influences in a strongly original style. 

Outside the city's walls are remains of a Roman aqueduct and immense necropolises. Discovery of the ruined city by travellers in the 17th and 18th centuries resulted in its subsequent influence on architectural styles. 

Current war destroyed much of the ancient City of Palmyra after capturing it from Syrian government forces. That was in 2015. Since then many groups led by UNESCO are restoring the ruins of Palmyra. 

New restoration techniques are hastening the recovery albeit much has yet to be done. So far, the National Museum of Damascus successfully completed restoration work on the 2,000 year old limestone Lion Statue of Athena also known as the Lion of Al-lat statue, a 15 ton sculpture that had been blasted into pieces by the terrorists. The limestone lion measuring once marked and protected the entrance to the temple of Al-lāt. Since its discovery by Polish archaeologists in 1977, it has been a renowned fixture of the Museum of Palmyra. 

Damaged Lion Statue of Athena, 2015.

The statue suffered extensive damage in May 2015, when ISIL forces captured Palmyra, a UNESCO World Heritage site. “It was an internationally known symbol of Palmyra, it was standing in front of the museum,” explained Polish restorer Bartosz Markowski, who undertook the two-month restoration. At the foot of the statue, between the lion’s legs, lies an antelope, a symbol of the protection that the strong owes to the weak. “It is an exceptional statue,” explains Markowski, “there are no more such statues in Palmyra.” 

The Lion, a.k.a. The Lion of Al-lāt is now on display again. 

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