Syria’s endangered cultural heritage sites

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With a history of civilization that dates back as far as virtually any place on earth, Syria is one of the world’s richest countries in terms of cultural heritage. Sadly, many of its most historic and celebrated sites are at risk due to both natural and man-made factors, leaving the future of Syria’s cultural heritage in a constant—and increasing—state of jeopardy. 

A modern orchard encroaches on Serjilla, one of the best preserved of the “Dead Cities” in northwestern Syria [Credit: Emma Cunliffe/GHF]

Emma Cunliffe, a 2010 Global Heritage Preservation Fellow, has documented the plight of Syria’s cultural heritage in an excellent new report titled “Syria: Past, Present and Preservation.” The 20-page report is available for download via the GHN Community and features a comprehensive look at the threats and conservation work being done at 12 endangered sites. Her report includes links to each site’s GHN profile, as well as a number of valuable maps and images. 

First among these sites is Carchemish, an important Mitanni, Hittite and Neo-Assyrian city that lies in a no-man’s land along the border of Syria and Turkey. On the Syrian side, the settlement’s ancient features have been damaged by the expansion of the nearby town of Jerablus, whose development has destroyed structures within Carchemish’s ancient city walls. Those elements not buried beneath the modern urban fabric are additionally threatened by an increasing agricultural area that has caused city walls to be bulldozed to make way for fields and orchards. 

Previously excavated structures at Mari (Tell Hariri). Once exposed to weather, these features quickly degrade and erode [Credit: Emma Cunliffe/GHF]

Also included in the report are four UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the Dead or Forgotten Cities of Syria, the castles of Crak des Chevaliers and Qal’at Salah El-Din, Bosra, and Palmyra. These historic sites include some of the best-preserved villages and buildings in Syria, but they are considered at risk due to factors like development pressures, insufficient management, inappropriate restoration, vandalism, and erosion by both humans and nature. 

Mari (Tell Hariri) is the only site in the report classified by GHN as “Rescue Needed” (Red). An ancient Sumerian and Amorite city on the western bank of the Euphrates, it is thought to have been inhabited since the 5th millennium BC. Efforts have been made to cover parts of the site and transport finds to museums, but due to its size, protecting all of it has been deemed unfeasible. Therefore, the city’s uncovered mudbrick walls are eroding, and large parts of the extensively-excavated site are today unrecognizable. 

View from the citadel roof of Syria’s Masyaf Castle [Credit: Emma Cunliffe/GHF]

The other sites documented in Cunliffe’s report include Apamea, the Norias of Hama, and Raqqa and al-Rafiqa—all of which sit on the UNESCO Tentative list—as well as Dura Europos, Ebla (Tell Mardikh), and Masyaf Castle. 

Click here to read “Syria: Past, Present and Preservation” by Emma Cunliffe 

Source: Global Heritage Fund [September 06, 2011]

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