Syrian War Takes Heavy Toll at a Crossroad of Cultures
PALMYRA, Syria undefined The imposing stone colonnades still stand, below stark hills dotted with tombs. They still glow peach-pink in the afternoon sun, impassive, as if unimpressed by what is, after all, not their first war.
At the first-century Temple of Bel, one of the best-preserved buildings in the ancient city of Palmyra, a prominent column bears a new scar. A mortar shell left a telltale splash mark on the stone, without budging a structure that has stood for 2,000 years. Elsewhere, two other columns have collapsed, officials said, and bullets have pockmarked walls. But compared with the wholesale destruction that was feared, the damage, for now, is minimal.
Yet the war has left deeper, less obvious wounds. Illegal digging, long a problem at the many sprawling archaeological sites in Syria, has accelerated during three years of conflict. Grave robbers, some crude, others professional, have stolen numerous objects from Palmyra’s tombs, museum officials say, sometimes sawing funeral friezes in two to make them easier to carry.
Another casualty is the town of Tadmur, a jumble of concrete skirting the skeleton of the grander ancient city. Its tourist economy has shut down. And for local people, who consider themselves custodians of one of the world’s most magnificent ancient sites, there is a greater, if less tangible, pain.