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Years of conflict in war-torn Syria has caused significant damage to World Heritage Sites located across the nation. The country is home to six separate sites, some of which predate the Crusades, which have been selected by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The locations have sustained large amounts of damage in recent years since the country erupted into civil conflict in 2011.
A report from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has shed some light on the extent of the destruction. Using high-resolution satellite imagery, AAAS was able to create before and after comparisons of the World Heritage Sites, which show that some sites have sustained “significant damage” and that others have been “reduced to rubble.”
Of the six sites located in Syria, only the city of Damascus appears to have remained undamaged. Founded in the 3rd millennium B.C., the city’s geographical position between Asia and Africa allowed it to flourish. Throughout the medieval period, it continued to prosper through trades and crafts and is now widely accepted as one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in existence.
But Syria’s other World Heritage Sites are now just shadows of what they once were. In the Ancient City of Aleppo, the satellite images have revealed massive destruction. Structures destroyed include historic buildings such as the Grand Serail of Aleppo and the Khusruwiyah Mosque. Al-Madina Souq, the world’s largest covered market, located in the heart of Aleppo, has also been damaged.
The Great Mosque of Aleppo, built at the beginning of the 8th century and one of the most recognized cultural sites within the city, has perhaps sustained the most extensive damage. The AAAS images show severe roof damage and several craters, as well as noticeable destruction in the surrounding area.
Aleppo may yet sustain more damage as the U.S. airstrikes against Islamic State strongholds across the country also include targets around the city. Airstrikes began Monday evening and have since continued on a nightly basis.
Other World Heritage Sites that have suffered damage from years of Syrian conflict include the ancient sites of Bosra and Palmyra and the ancient villages in the northern region of the country. Mortar impacts can be seen near a Roman theater in Bosra and newly created roads now cut through the Northern Roman Necropolis in Palmyra. The city of Palmyra, according to UNESCO, was once one of the most important cultural centers of the ancient world.
Two castles, the Crac des Chevaliers and Qal’at Salah El-Din have also been damaged. The Crac des Chevaliers, one of the most well-known examples of Crusader fortification and architecture, has sustained moderate structural damage to one of its towers and mortar cratering across the grounds.
The World Heritage Committee has expressed concern over Syria’s sites since the beginning of the conflict in 2011. In 2013, all six sites were transferred to the “danger list” of places that are at risk of being irreparably damaged or permanently destroyed. Since then, reports have emerged of militant groups who have begun to plunder the country’s archaeological treasures to further finance their cause.
Aside from the damage caused to the World Heritage Sites across the country, the conflict in Syria has now claimed over 100,000 lives. According to the UN, approximately 6.5 million people have been internally displaced within the nation’s borders and another 2.5 million have fled, seeking refuge in the neighboring countries of Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq.
By Mathew Channer