Monument described as ‘jewel in the collection’ of Unesco-listed Syrian city is destroyed and follows the razing of other statues and temples
Islamic State militants have destroyed the Arch of Triumph in the ancient city of Palmyra, a monument that dates back to the Roman empire, Syria’s chief of antiquities told the Guardian.
Maamoun Abdulkarim said sources in the city, which was conquered by Isis after a week-long siege in May, had informed him the arch was destroyed on Sunday in the latest act of vandalism against Syria’s cultural heritage perpetrated by Isis.
“It’s a crime in every sense of the word,” he said in a telephone interview from Damascus. “All we can do is share the sadness.”
The arch was built in commemoration of a visit by the emperor and his entourage when Palmyra was a Roman colony. Isis’s puritanical interpretation of Islam deems the preservation of ancient artefacts and monuments to be a form of idolatry.
Earlier this summer, the group destroyed the majestic Temple of Bel, once the centre of religious life in ancient Palmyra, and the historic Temple of Baalshamin. The militants also beheaded Khaled al-Assaad, the elderly head of Palmyra’s antiquities, after he refused to pass on the location of hidden artefacts.
Abdulkarim, who described the militants as “barbarians”, said the arch carried no religious significance and its destruction appeared to be fuelled entirely by spite. He said the terror group had also planted explosives on several other buildings in the ancient city, part of a process of systematically destroying the ruins.
He said the majority of Palmyra’s monuments could be destroyed if the international community and forces on the ground in Syria did not act.
“Liberating Palmyra is an immediate necessity,” Abdulkarim said. “The international community must find a solution to liberate it.”
Isis has destroyed numerous cultural artefacts and monuments of historic significance in its rampage across Iraq and Syria. In addition to the destruction in Palmyra, it has blown up Christian and Shia shrines and houses of worship in both countries. It also burned and destroyed centuries-old Assyrian and Akkadian artefacts in Nineveh, releasing high-production-value imagery and videography of its atrocities.
Experts say the group revels in the destruction as it highlights its ability to operate with impunity and it shows the powerlessness of the international community to put a halt to its actions. Isis also profits from illicitly selling artefacts it loots from ancient sites.