For the past six years, as a brutal civil war has reduced swathes of Syria to rubble, no visitors have set foot in the National Museum of Damascus. Today (Oct. 28), the museum finally re-opened its doors to tourists.
The move is a sign that “Damascus has recovered,” Syrian minister of culture Mohamed al-Ahmad told reporters and visitors, according to Associated Press. “The opening of the museum is a genuine message that Syria is still here and her heritage would not be affected by terrorism.”
Much of Syria’s rich cultural history has been destroyed during its civil war. The ancient city of Aleppo has been wrecked, and the Islamic State intentionally detonated explosives at the Unesco world heritage site of Palymra. In 2012, the National Museum of Damascus shut as the city came under fire from rebel rockets, and many of its exhibits were evacuated to secret locations.
Though only part of the museum re-opened today, the exhibit contains a rich history of antiques, including “artifacts from all periods from prehistory, the ancient east and the classical and Islamic eras in this section,” said deputy director Ahmad Deeb. Murals from the 2nd century Dura-Europos and textiles from central Palmyra will be on display.
The decision to re-open the museum reflects the government’s desire to assert normalcy, as president Bashar Assad’s forces, with the help of Russian military assistance, have re-gained control of much of Syria. Though significant portions of Syria are still under the rule of rebel forces, ISIS gave up its stronghold on Damascus earlier this year.
The former Directorate-General for Antiquities and Museums, Maamoun Abdul-Karim, said it will take millions of dollars to re-open all the nation’s museums. “When all museums re-open nationwide, then we can say that the crisis in Syria ended,” he said.
Correction (Oct. 29, 2018): The National Museum of Damascus shut down in 2012. This story originally reported, incorrectly, that it shut down in 2016.