ISIS forces occupying the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria have stated in a video message posted to YouTube Wednesday that they do not intend to bulldoze the architecture, but will “pulverize” unspecified statues they believe were worshipped by “miscreants” in the past.
The Islamic state acquired “full control” of the city last week after Syrian government forces retreated, according to London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors fighting in Syria.
Albeit a city of ruins, Palmyra’s mixed architecture represents the crossover of classical, Arab, and Iranian civilizations in its ruined temples and colonnades. Known as the “bride of the desert,” Palmyra is an oasis located northeast of Damascus and was once a monumental caravan city straddling an important trade route linking India, Persia, China, and the Roman Empire.
A grand colonnaded street 3,608 feet long forms the axis of the city, with side streets oriented around it. Outside the city’s walls are the remains of a Roman aqueduct and immense necropolises ornamented with unique funerary sculptures. The architecture also married Graeco-Roman techniques with local traditions and Persian influences.
While much publicity has been done on ISIS’ destruction of monuments in Syria such as the 11th century castle Crac des Chevaliers, Stephanie Mulder, associate professor of Islamic art and architecture at the University of Texas at Austin pointed out that humanitarian concerns must be balanced with that for the loss of historical artefacts.
“Clearly, we must have concern for people first, but culture is also an essential part of us as people, as human beings,” she stated in a message sent to an academic listserv. “Many people simply feel helpless in the face of death on this scale, and turn away in despair. Having concern for culture then becomes a way to express concern that seems concrete, in some sense.”