By: Bijan Rohani

The International Council of Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) is concerned about the cultural heritage of Syria as armed conflicts in the country intensify.

Violence in Syria has reached a critical stage, and now one of Syria’s most important cities has become the scene of a full-fledged war.

Aleppo, Syria’s most important city after Damascus, has been witnessing heavy clashes between the Syrian army and armed opposition groups in recent days, and the conflict continues.

In addition to its economic and political importance, Aleppo is an ancient city registered as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The ancient city of Aleppo and its historic citadel are at the centre of the modern city, and there is concern that the heavy fighting between the two sides, in addition to causing human casualties, would harm these historic sites.

International organizations have issued a statement in this regard, urging all parties involved in the conflict in Syria to respect the cultural heritage, make every effort to preserve it and refrain from using any of these areas for military purposes.

ICOMOS announced its concern about the fate of the cultural monuments in this city in an official statement on July 27, saying there is great fear that the heavy fighting in this city would damage the world heritage sites. The UNESCO Director-General echoed this concern, adding that there is particular worry about the “risks of looting and pillaging of cultural property.”

Aleppo World Heritage

The ancient city of Aleppo has been on the UNESCO list of World Heritage sites since 1986. With a history dating back at least four millennia, Aleppo was situated on one of the most important trade routes of the ancient world and it has preserved the diverse cultures of its peoples, including the Hittites, Assyrians, Greeks, Romans, Umayyads, Ayyubids, Mongols, Mameluks and Ottomans who settled there.

The Citadel of Aleppo sits at the top of the ancient market, and the ancient walled city is testament to the fortifications made by Arabs in the region from the 12th to 14th centuries. Inside the citadel, there are remains of the palace, mosques 

and ancient baths. The ancient city grew and developed along with the citadel. In the city streets, you can still find traces of the roads and the urban network that the Greeks and Romans left behind.

There were two main reasons for adding these sites to the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites in 1986. Primarily, it was because Aleppo reflects the different cultures that have been present in the region. The various historic eras have each left their special mark in the many corners of the city, and their influence can be seen in the city’s art and architecture. The combination of all these styles and the different eras is especially evident in the Citadel of Aleppo.

The city’s historic and cultural riches include the Great Mosque of Aleppo, built in the Umayyad period of 800 years ago, as well as inns, markets and houses.

Aleppo also has many historic monuments from the Ayyubid period. During this era, which followed the victories of Saladin the Ayyubid in the crusades, forts were built with moats, towers and places for shooters, and rock launchers were built on top of the forts, and the Rafi Gate was built to protect the city. These military fortifications are prominent examples of Islamic architecture.

The Threat against Other Historical Sites in Syria

Aleppo’s historical heritage is currently under serious threat. In addition to Aleppo, several other places in Syria are listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites. However, their situation is unclear, and there have been some reports of destruction and looting at these ancient sites. The country’s volatile security situation makes it impossible to contact Syrian experts, architects, preservationists or archeologists, and this adds to the existing concerns.

Crac des Chevaliers, Palmyra, the Ancient region of Apamia, the Ancient Villages in Northern Syria and Damascus, which are also on the World Heritage list, have been reportedly subjected to damage during the recent conflicts. Other than the World Heritage sites, in many Syrian cities such as Homs, Dir al-zor, Hama and other areas, many national and local monuments and artifacts have been damaged. In Homs, churches, mosques, historic buildings and markets have been destroyed. Until there is a ceasefire and security is re-established, it will not be possible to assess the extent of the damage to Syria’s cultural and historic heritage.

 

 

[translated from the original in Persian]