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After ISIS Destruction, Syria’s Ancient ‘Pearl of the Desert’ Palmyra to Open to Tourists in 2019

Following the militants’s occupation and desecration of the site, the reclaimed city is undergoing significant restoration works

Palmyra, Syria, 2006. Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons; photograph: James Gordon

Palmyra, Syria, 2006. Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons; photograph: James Gordon

Palmyra, Syria, 2006. Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons; photograph: James Gordon

After it was occupied and extensively damaged by the terrorist organization Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) from 2015 to 2017, the ancient site of Palmyra in Homs, Syria, is set to receive tourists in the summer of 2019, the Syrian government claims.

In a report published by the Russian state-owned news agency Sputnik, the Homs provincial govenor Talal Barazi said: ‘The authorities now have a project to repair all the damage caused to Palmyra’s Old City. There are also good offers from the world powers to restore the artefacts and historical value of Palmyra.’ Barazi added: ‘this is the world history and it belongs not only to Syria.’

The Greco-Roman ruins, often described as the ‘Pearl of the Desert’ and classed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, suffered significant damage at the hands of ISIS after the terrorist organization took control in 2015. Militants destroyed Palmyra’s Temple of Bel, Temple of Baalshamin, Arch of Triumph and other parts with sledgehammers and explosives.

While Palmyra was under ISIS control, the terrorist organization publicly beheaded and crucified the site’s 82-year-old head of antiquities, archaeologist Khaled al-Asaad, after he refused to tell them the location of antiquities. Militants hung his body from a column in the ancient city.

The site was reclaimed by president Bashar Al Assad’s forces in 2016, but ISIS stormed it again later that year, causing further destruction to Palmyra’s treasures, with statues defaced and beheaded. Syrian and Russian troops only took Palmyra back in March 2017.

ISIS’s destruction of ancient sites across the country has been variously read as a war on non-Islamic history, and culture deemed significant to the West, as well as attempts to show up the weakness of the Syrian government.

Earlier this year, Syrian archaeologists, in partnership with Russian experts, began the process of restoring ancient artefacts damaged by ISIS’s occupation of Palmyra. ‘The work is very complicated, the terrorists have broken the sculptures into many pieces,’ Maher al-Jubari, director of the laboratory of national museums in Syria told the Daily Telegraph.

Palmyra once counted among Syria’s most popular attractions, with 150,000 visitors each year. Despite widespread devastation, authorities have launched a concerted effort to promote the country’s tourism industry in recent months.

‘This year is the time to rebuild Syria and our economy,’ one Ministry of Tourism official told AFP this year. But critics of the government’s drive to celebrate ‘the beauty, civilization and history of Syria as a unique tourism destination’ have pointed out that it makes little note of the ongoing civil war and threats to foreign visitors. Most Western governments advise against travel to the country.

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