Sunday, August 05, 2012

Robert Fisk: Syria's ancient treasures pulverised

The priceless treasures of Syria's history – of Crusader castles, ancient mosques and churches, Roman mosaics, the renowned "Dead Cities" of the north and museums stuffed with antiquities – have fallen prey to looters and destruction by armed rebels and government militias as fighting envelops the country. While the monuments and museums of the two great cities of Damascus and Aleppo have so far largely been spared, reports from across Syria tell of irreparable damage to heritage sites that have no equal in the Middle East. Even the magnificent castle of Krak des Chevaliers – described by Lawrence of Arabia as "perhaps the best preserved and most wholly admirable castle in the world" and which Saladin could not capture – has been shelled by the Syrian army, damaging the Crusader chapel inside.

The destruction of Iraq's heritage in the anarchic aftermath of the Anglo-American invasion of 2003 – the looting of the national museum, the burning of the Koranic library and the wiping out of ancient Sumerian cities – may now be repeated in Syria. Reports from Syrian archeologists and from Western specialists in bronze age and Roman cities tell of an Assyrian temple destroyed at Tell Sheikh Hamad, massive destruction to the wall and towers of the citadel of al-Madiq castle – one of the most forward Crusader fortresses in the Levant which originally fell to Bohemond of Antioch in 1106 – and looting of the magnificent Roman mosaics of Apamea, where thieves have used bulldozers to rip up Roman floors and transport them from the site. Incredibly, they have managed to take two giant capitols from atop the colonnade of the "decumanus", the main east-west Roman road in the city.