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Restoration of ancient Palmyra bas-reliefs begins in Syria’s Damascus

Restorers use old photos to retrieve the artworks their original look
Old Town of Palmyra Valery Sharifulin/TASS
Old Town of Palmyra
© Valery Sharifulin/TASS

DAMASCUS, July 12. /TASS/. Experts from the National Museum of Damascus have begun restoration of ancient Palmyra bas-reliefs, partially destroyed by the militants of the Islamic State terrorist organization (IS, outlawed in Russia), the museum’s director Oman Saad told reporters.

"These parts were delivered from Palmyra after the first liberation, when the Syrian army freed the city and transported all these parts to the museum. As you can see, all these sculptures have been destroyed by IS militants — before Palmyra was seized by the IS, we came there and took some of the sculptures to safety, however, some remained there. When the IS came, they began to destroy the remaining sculptures, firstly desecrating the faces, and then the rest of the sculptures. <…> Now, a team of experts has arrived in Damascus to begin restoration works," Saad said.

The specialists look at old photographs to restore the destroyed artworks, using lime brought from Palmyra.

The restoration is financed solely by the Syrian government, without any aid from international organizations like UNESCO. "In my opinion, this is a political issue, before, in 2014 and 2015, they had been helping, but now we receive no aid. This concerns not only UNESCO, but also other missions that used to work here. Very few organizations are helping now," the museum’s director noted.

Saad was not able to specify the exact time the restoration process would take. According to him, the process could be sped up with the help of the international community. "It’s hard to say, we need help from everyone that can provide it — various missions, everyone interested in maintaining cultural heritage. TV and magazines always point out the importance of maintaining cultural heritage sites, however, we do not see this in practice, there is no help," Saad concluded.

Palmyra, often referred to as the Bride of the Syrian Desert, was a notable center of commerce and culture at the crossing of trade routes in ancient times. It reached especial grandeur in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD. A number of illustrious architectural monuments relate to that period. UNESCO placed Palmyra on its list of world cultural heritage sites. The IS militants who controlled Palmyra from May 2015 through March 2016 and from December 2016 through March 2017 destroyed a number of ancient monuments.