Restoring the Ruins?

Russia and Syria announce joint project to restore ancient city of Palmyra

Last week Russian and Syrian Officials met in Damascus to sign an agreement that aims to restore the ancient city of Palmyra. This photo shows the ruins in 2009 before the city faced destruction by ISIL. (Johan Siegers/Flickr)

Earlier last week, Russian and Syrian officials announced that they would team up to restore the National Museum of Palmyra. Mikhail Piotrovsky, director of the State Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia, oversaw the signing in Damascus between the Hermitage, Institute for the History of Material Culture of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and the Syrian Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums (DGAM). 

Located in the northeast of Damascus, Palmyra contains the monumental ruins of what was once a great oasis city in the Syrian desert nest known for being one of the most important cultural centers of the ancient world. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the architecture of this civilization often combined Greco-Roman and Persian influences with local traditions. However, the site had been targeted for deliberate destruction by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and in 2014, much of the city and nearby historic religious buildings were damaged. Over the course of 2015, ISIL (also referred to as ISIS) destroyed the ancient Lion of Al-lāt statue, The Temple of Baalshamin, The Monumental Arch, and the Tower of Elahbel, among many other historic sites.

A statement posted on the Hermitage’s website states: “Both agreements are a tangible step in the significant development of museum and research ties between Russia and Syria,” according to The Art Newspaper. The goals of the agreement include a collaborative effort between the Hermitage and the National Museum of Oman to restore 20 Syrian antiquities from Palmyra, followed by the later restoration of the city as a whole, which is still suffering from the damage created by ISIL. Representatives from UNESCO, DGAM, and the Aga Kahn Foundation will also form an advisory group for the campaign and work with the Hermitage to restore the selection of artifacts. 

Piotrovsky said that restoring the museum is the first step and is “of particular value for the entire complex,” but reiterated that the ultimate goal of preserving the ancient city will be quite a process and, “we are preparing for the day after tomorrow, it’s not yet possible to do anything tomorrow.”

However, this is far from the first attempt at preserving Palmyra’s history; numerous attempts have been made to scan and recreate the structures and artwork found there, including creating a digital archive.

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