A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, August 31, 2015

Temple of Bel Said to Still Be Standing Despite IS Attempt to Destroy It (UPDATED)

UPDATE: see important update at end.

During my vacation, the news from the UNESCO World Heritage Site at Palmyra was pretty much universally bad. The Islamic State executed the octogenarian Syrian archaeologist Khaled Al-Asaad, and destroyed the two-millennium old temple of Baal Shamin, (Before and after photos below.)
Yesterday and earlier today there were reports of an even greater potential loss for Syrian heritage: a report that ISIS had planted explosives around one of Palmyra's most iconic sites, the Temple of Bel, yesterday afternoon.and blown it up.

There is, however, some glimmer of hope. Syria's Head of the Department of Antiquities and Museums, Maamoun Abdulkarim, is quoted today as saying "our information is provisional, but it indicates that any damage done was partial, and the basic structure is still standing."

Dedicated in 32 AD, the Temple of Bel was already a couple of centuries old during Zenobia's reign, and was later a Byzantine church. We even know the name of its Greek architect.

What counts as a glimmer of good news in ISIS territory is that they didn't apparently succeed in destroying this priceless antiquity on their first try. The bad news is they may well try again. Please indulge the obscene expletives of your choice.

Below, a photo I took personally 43 years ago in 1972 of the Temple of Bel. Original was an old Kodachrome slide.
UPDATE: UN imagery suggests the destruction was much worse than today's reports suggested:

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