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ISIS Demolished Yet Another Priceless Syrian Monument

The 1,800-year-old Arch of Triumph was destroyed on Sunday

(Alison Wright/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

Another monument in Palmyra is gone. The Arch of Triumph, an iconic cultural treasure recognized as part of a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, was reportedly demolished by ISIS militants on Sunday, according to eyewitnesses. The arch is the third major site destroyed since ISIS took control of the ancient Roman city in May.

“It’s as though there is a curse that has befallen this city, and I expect only news that will shock us,” Maamoun Abdulkarim, Syria’s directorate general for antiquities and museums, tells Reuters. “If the city remains in their hands, the city is doomed.”

Since ISIS seized Palmyra, militants have several priceless ancient sites in and around the city, including the Temple of Baalshamin and the Temple of Bel, Kareem Shaheen reports for The Guardian. In August, ISIS militants beheaded Khaled al-Asaad, Palmyra's head of antiquities, after he refused to reveal the locations of hidden artifacts.

"This new destruction shows how terrified by history and culture the extremists are, because understanding the past undermines and delegitimizes the pretexts they use to justify these crimes and exposes them as expressions of pure hatred and ignorance,” Irina Bokova, the director-general of UNESCO, said in a statement. “Palmyra symbolizes everything that extremists abhor; cultural diversity, intercultural dialogue, the encounter of different peoples in this centre of trading between Europe and Asia.”

Located northeast of Damascus, Palmyra once thrived on an ancient trade route that linked the Roman Empire with Persia, India and China. In its heyday, the city was renowned for its wealth and multicultural tolerance, Sturt Manning writes for CNN.

As ISIS has gained ground in Syria and Iraq, the militant organization has systematically — and publically — demolished historic sites as a means to gain both notoriety and a steady supply of funds. The antiquities black market is so flooded with stolen artifacts from ISIS-controlled territory, the United Nations warned last month that militants are looting “on an industrial scale.” In 2013, the International Council of Museums created an emergency list of stolen Syrian artifacts and the FBI has requested expert help with "halting trade in looted and stolen artifacts from Syria and Iraq," Kathleen Caulderwood reports for Motherboard.

“Collectors and dealers know that it is an almost impossible task for law enforcement investigators to prove that something freshly dug out of the ground, with no prior collection history, or record of existence, has been acquired by illegal or destructive means,” Lynda Albertson, head of the Association for Research in Crimes against Art, tells Caulderwood. “That’s what makes buying ‘fresh’ so appealing.”

About Danny Lewis

Danny Lewis is a multimedia journalist working in print, radio, and illustration. He focuses on stories with a health/science bent and has reported some of his favorite pieces from the prow of a canoe. Danny is based in Brooklyn, NY.

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