Damascus museum shows ancient treasures rescued from war

Damascus museum shows ancient treasures rescued from war
4 years ago

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DAMASCUS — For the first time since the start of Syria's civil war, the Damascus National Museum is displaying a range of ancient artefacts rescued from the bombs, smugglers and the Islamic State (ISIS).

Carved figures, pediments and pottery from around Syria, including Palmyra, the site ransacked by ISIS fighters, can be seen at the museum in the capital Damascus.

"Around 100 relics of different forms, different periods and different Syrian cities were saved in different ways, whether by Syrian police and customs, or by saving them from Daesh [ISIS] in Deir al-Zor and Palmyra," said Mamoun Abdul Karim, head of Syrian antiquities.

Among the 100 exhibits are pieces captured before they could be smuggled out of the country, two statues that were sent to Italy to be restored after they were damaged by ISIS and a statue moved to Damascus before ISIS took Palmyra.

ISIS captured Palmyra in 2015 and held it for 10 months until Syrian government forces backed by allied militia and Russian air power drove them out, but it returned several times and was last ousted in March of this year. During its occupation, ISIS fighters deliberately destroyed monuments in the world heritage site that was one of the most important cultural centers of the ancient world.

UNESCO called the destruction a war crime and "an immense loss for the Syrian people and for humanity".

Abdul Karim says more than 300.000 items have been saved so far during the war, 7,000 of which were stopped from being smuggled out of country, 89 that were returned from Lebanon and dozens stopped from being sold in markets such as London, Belgium, Switzerland and France in cooperation with UNESCO and Interpol. He said the "absolute majority" of items that were in Syrian museums remain unharmed.

"This exhibition is an image of hundreds of halls that will be opened in the future," he said, admitting that it felt strange to open a show during a time of war in Syria where all other museums have been emptied and closed.

There are thousands of pieces around the world that may not resurface for decades, some hidden in neighbouring countries that do not have relations with Syria such as Jordan, Turkey and Israel, Abdul Karim said.

The exhibition is open to the public for the next few months.