Syrian war damages nearly 300 cultural heritage sites, report says

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Syria has seen damage to hundreds of historically significant cultural heritage sites since the outbreak of war three years ago, according to a new report released this week by the United Nations. The study finds that 290 culturally important areas in the Middle Eastern country have sustained damage or have been totally destroyed.

The U.N. said the report is based on satellite analysis that started in June, and that the city of Aleppo could be “one of the worst affected metropolitan areas nationwide.” The study team also relied on a large number of reports and media from inside Syria as well as videos on YouTube to help pinpoint exact locations.

“It is very difficult, if not impossible, to gather evidence and information through traditional means. Large parts of the country are inaccessible to observers, as they are controlled by terrorist groups,” the report said.


Among the 18 Syrian locations examined in the report are six UNESCO World Heritage sites, including Aleppo, which is believed to be about 7,000 years old. The report was created by the U.N. body known as UNOSAT, which uses satellite technology to aid in the research of geopolitical crises.

The report counts 24 cultural heritage locations as being totally destroyed, including 22 in Aleppo alone. Sites experiencing severe damage number 107, and those with moderate damage 85. Among the damaged sites are the popular Carlton Hotel, the Aleppo National Museum and the Great Umayyad Mosque, which the U.N. said was founded in 715 A.D., making it one of the oldest mosques in the world.

The capital city of Damascus has seen damage of various levels to 29 cultural sites, the report said.

The cultural areas examined in the report are historically significant for archaeological, architectural and religious reasons. Damage to sites has often been a result of shelling and other forms of bombardment.

The war in Syria broke out in 2011, with rebel groups fighting against the government of President Bashar Assad. The fighting has resulted in tens of thousands of deaths and millions of refugees.

In addition to structural damage, the looting of valuable artifacts continues to be a problem throughout the country. In September, an open letter signed by scholars around the world urged the U.N. Security Council to enact a ban on the trade of Syrian antiquities following widespread reports of looting. The Times ran an opinion piece in 2013 urging people not to purchase Syrian antiquities.


The U.N.’s report can be downloaded in its entirety in PDF format.

Twitter: @DavidNgLAT