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Photos: The senseless destruction of Palmyra after ISIL

Palmyra was recently recaptured after months under ISIL control.
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

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:

EPA/Youssef Badawi
The Roman Theater in Palmyra, April 1, 2016.

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:

EPA/Youssef Badawi
Damage to the Arch of Triumph, April 1, 2016.

This image from 2010, taken by the same photographer, shows the same area before the ISIL takeover:

EPA/Youssef Badawi
The Arch of Triumph in 2010.

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.

Another view of Palmyra, March 29, 2016.
EPA/Youssef Badawi
The citadel in Palmyra, March 27, 2016.

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:

Inside the museum in Palmyra, March 27, 2016.
Inside the museum in Palmyra, March 27, 2016.
Damage to the museum in Palmyra, March 27, 2016.
SANA via AP.
A damaged statue, March 28, 2016.
A statue defaced, March 27, 2016.

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.”

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