Constantly we hear news about ISIS fighters destroying World Heritage Sites and priceless artifacts, and even though the world has been outraged, little has been done to put a stop to this.
The latest mindless act of violence was the destroying of precious monuments in Palmyra, Syria.
UNESCO describes Palmyra as “an oasis in the Syrian desert” and the place where the most important cultural hub of the ancient world is located. When ISIS captured the city of Palmyra it was reported that they have no intention of destroying World Heritage Sites – this was in May 2015.
However, it seems they have changed their minds. On June 27, 2015, ISIS destroyed the ancient Lion of Al-lāt statue and several other are reportedly destroyed as well. On August 23, 2015, ISIS demolished the Temple of Baalshamin, which dated back to the 1st century. The latest report from Palmyra brings us news about ISIS fighters partially destroying the Temple of Bel with explosives. On the other hand, the ancient Roman amphitheatre is being used by the militants for mass executions.
Syria and Iraq are where the origins of modern civilization are located, where history was made and the alphabet and urbanism were invented. Because of all of this it is extremely important to save the remaining World Heritage Sites.
However, for many archeological sites it’s too late and they have been bulldozed or blown up – just like the following 6 invaluable sites.
1. Hatra, Iraq
The ancient city of Hatra is located south of Mosul in Iraq. It is an UNESCO World Heritage Site, older than 2,300 year, a fortified city built by the successors of Alexander the Great and the former capital of the first Arab Kingdom. The city’s architecture is a unique blend of Roman and Hellenistic architecture with Arab decorative features.
It has been reported that the 2 centuries old city of Hatra has been looted and destroyed by ISIS in March 2015.
2. Mosul, Iraq
The second largest museum in Iraq is located in Mosul and it houses relics from Hatra, as well as artifacts from Nineveh. Most of these statues and artifacts were destroyed using sledgehammers. Even though experts agree that some of the artifacts were replicas, one priceless artifact truly is lost – a winged bull from the 7th century which once awaited passengers entering Nineveh.
Besides the museum, the Mosul Library and Jonah’s tomb were also ripped apart. The library contained valuable Ottoman books which were burned, while Jonah’s tomb inside the Mosque of the Prophet Yunus, a holy Christian site, was demolished by ISIS. It was believed to be the burial place of the prophet Jonas, who was, according the Bible and the Koran, swallowed by a whale. It was placed on an archaeological site which dated back to the 8th century BC and was visited by religious pilgrims from several faiths.
3. Khorsabad, Iraq
The city of Khorsabad is located in northeastern Iraq and is an ancient Assyrian town which dates back to the 8th century BC. The Assyrian King Sargon II constructed his new capital here between 715 and 705 BC, but his beautiful capital was reportedly looted and demolished 2,700 years later by ISIS fighters. The most famous artifacts in Khorsabad were the majestic statues of human-headed winged bulls.
Qais Rasheed, head of Iraq’s antiquities board, confirmed the demolition: “The walls were demolished, and some parts of the temples, but we do not know the full extent of the damage. Looting took place, and then the demolishing.”
In the 19th century some of the carvings of winged bulls were transported to the U.S. and Europe, but they represent only a small part of the ancient artifacts that were present in Khorsabad.
4. Mari, Syria
Mari is located on the western bank of the Euphrates River near the border with Iraq. It is a Bronze Age site with remains dating back to 3000 BC. Archaeological digs began in the 1930s and since then a large number of paintings and artifacts were found, including thousands of clay tablets which depict their ancient laws, diplomacy and economy.
The site has been severely looted and reports claim that over 1,100 pits have been dug into this once-intact locality.
5. Aleppo, Syria
Battles are still being fought in Aleppo and the clashes have caused damage to the Old City which is an UNESCO World Heritage Site. ISIS hasn’t conquered the city yet, but when they do, experts caution that the Great Mosque of Aleppo from the 8th century and the Aleppo Citadel are under great risk of being destroyed.
Near the city of Aleppo are the Sufi shrines which have been partially or completely destroyed. These shrines are the resting place of Sufi saints. The ones east of Aleppo have been demolished, along with the tomb of Meqam Shiekh Aqil al Manbaj, an important mystic of Sufi Muslims.
6. Nimrud, Iraq
All of the most important historic sites in Iraq – Khorsabad, Hatra and Nimrud – are controlled by ISIS.
Nimrud is an ancient city located 20 miles south of the city of Mosul. It was founded in the 13th century BC and was a major Assyrian city and, for several centuries, the capital of the Neo- Assyrian Empire. ISIS militants released a video of the savage rampage in Nimrud which took place in March 2015. The entire city was at least partially run down by heavy military vehicles and bulldozers. The destruction was confirmed by the Iraqi Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities.
The palace of Ashurnasirpal (an Assyrian king) and a large number of statues were destroyed in the rampage.
In 1945, a British archaeologist shipped six pairs of statues of lions and bulls and they can now be found in British museums.
Why are ISIS fighters destroying archeological sites?
The jihadists of ISIS have pledged to remove all signs of idolatry. In a video released by ISIS we hear a jihadist saying: “Whenever we take control of a piece of land, we remove the symbols of polytheism and spread monotheism in it.”
Their notion of idolatry doesn’t only apply to pre-Islamic sites like Nimrud, but also any Islamic site that doesn’t follow their strict Sunni interpretation of Islam. According to their beliefs, pre-Islamic archeological sites represent nations that have been wiped out “for not believing in Allah and His messengers”, therefore the traces of these ancient civilizations must be destroyed.