Thursday, September 06, 2012

Castles, Ancient Treasures Under Fire in Syria—Possibly Beyond Repair

">Aleppo's citadel is the latest Syrian treasure to be caught in the line of fire. The fighting that began in 2011 has taken a staggering human toll—reportedly more than 20,000 killed—and done grave damage to the country's ancient sites as well: Roman ruins, Byzantine churches, Islamic fortresses, Ottoman mosques and homes. (Related: how an ancient Roman city thrived in an infertile Syrian desert.)

The rich collection of buildings and artifacts attests to Syria's 5,000 years of civilization. "Almost all the main chapters of human civilization have a part written in Syria," said Rodrigo Martin, spokesperson for Syrian Archaeological Heritage Under Threat, a group of European and Syrian archaeologists who have tracked damage to Syria's heritage since clashes began.

Babylonians, Greeks, and Persians all fought for control of the region, which was a crossroads for trade between Asia and Europe. Two Roman emperors, Alexander Severus and Philip the Arab, were born in Syria. For an archaeologist in the 21st century, Syria is a place where you can unearth a significant artifact in nearly any spot you turn a trowel.

(See National Geographic magazine pictures of Syria in quieter times.)

Syria Sites Beyond Repair?

Just as the Aleppo citadel suffered damage, so did the renowned Krak des Chevalier castle (picture), which was built by Frankish crusaders from France in the 12th century. Earlier this year Syrian news reported that armed gunmen entered Krak des Chevalier either to loot it or use it as a fortification. Videos posted online in July show that the well-preserved fortress, a UN World Heritage site since 2006, has been shelled by tanks.