The ancient city of Palmyra, once a sprawling oasis in Syria’s central desert known for its archeological sites, is now a wasteland of rubble and fallen monuments. Local antigovernment activists recently reported that Islamic State militants destroyed a set of triumphal arches built by the Romans in the second century. The triple arch sat at the entrance to Palmyra’s grand colonnade and was built by the Romans to celebrate a victory over the Persians. The deliberate destruction of the arches is the latest cultural tragedy to befall the ancient city; ISIS already razed the temples of Baal and Baalshamin, both of which were UNESCO World Heritage sites.
The strategy behind the Islamic State’s destruction of archeological sites is twofold. The bombing and bulldozing of ancient sites gains ISIS widespread media attention; it’s a propaganda campaign that enables the terrorist group to extend its message and boost potential recruitment. At the same time, the Islamic State funds its terror organization and military operations by profiting from a large network of looters. According to the New York Times, the years of conflict in Iraq and Syria have created “a thriving trade in looted antiquities.” ISIS isn’t the first terrorist group to destroy ancient sites, but its war on the region’s cultural heritage has been relentless. Here are 10 ancient sites that were destroyed by terrorists.
10 Ancient Sites in Cambodia
9 The Amber Room
8 Gao Saney
7 The Shrine of Imam Awn al-Din
“It’s just gone,” said Yasser Tabbaa, a specialist on Islamic art and architecture, as he watched an online video of the Shrine of Imam Awn al-Din reduced to a cloud of dust. Located in Mosul on the edge of the Tigris River, the 13th century shrine was destroyed by ISIS in July 2014. The shrine was an architectural jewel; it featured a pyramidal tower and vaulted, honeycomb ceiling.
6 Crac des Chevaliers
3 The Mosul Museum
2 The National Museum of Afghanistan
1 The Buddhas of Bamiyan
In March 2001, the Taliban dynamited two 6th century Buddha statues hewn from the sandstone cliffs in the Bamiyan valley in central Afghanistan. The statues were built between 507 AD and 554 AD and were 8,200 feet tall. They Buddhas of Bamiyan had survived wars and the elements for over 1500 years. Even Ghengis Khan realized their cultural importance and refrained from damaging them. Mullah Mohammed Omar, the leader of the Taliban in 2001, ordered the destruction of the Buddhas. The Taliban wanted to cleanse Afghanistan of “Hindu heresy.” The Taliban’s Foreign Minister is reported to have said, “We are not against culture but we don’t believe in these things. They are against Islam.”
Sources: nytimes.com, history.com
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