In May last year, the ISIL terror group overtook the Syrian city of Palmyra, a site that contains several ancient temples and a museum full of statues and other priceless artifacts. Reports then began to emerge of extensive damage to the antiquities, and in August 2015 Khaled al-Assad, the head of antiquities for the city, was killed by the fighters.
Troops loyal to the Assad regime, with support from the Russian military, re-captured the city this week. They have found mass graves and extensive destruction. The extent of the damage—some less bad than expected, and some much worse—has begun to emerge.
The Roman Theater still appears to be standing:
But other large monuments have been badly damaged. The Triumphal Arch was reported to have been destroyed, but the destruction had not been confirmed. One journalist took this video, showing the ruins:
This is what the arch looks like now:
This image from 2010, taken by the same photographer, shows the same area before the ISIL takeover:
Christopher Jones, a PhD student in ancient Near Eastern history at Columbia University, has been documenting the destruction. He notes that while some buildings like the theater above have survived, others like the Temple of Bel have been almost completely destroyed.
Inside Palmyra’s museum, the damage is severe. Sculptures and statues had their heads and faces removed. Many were also toppled and broken, according to the Syrian directorate of antiquities and museums:
Why so much apparently senseless destruction? “It’s both propagandistic and sincere,” Christopher Jones told National Geographic. ISIL members see themselves as “recapitulating the early history of Islam.”