The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recently visited the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra to assess the damage and destruction done to it when it fell under the control of the Islamic State terrorist group (ISIS).
Though the city, a world heritage site, has been considerably damaged, it still continues to retain its integrity and authenticity, affirmed UNESCO.
"Palmyra is a pillar of Syrian identity, and a source of dignity for all Syrians," said UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova. "UNESCO is determined to ensure the safeguarding of this and other sites with all partners as part of broader humanitarian and peace building operations."
Taking stock of the situation, a team of archaeological experts examined both the museum and archaeological site of Palmyra. It was found that most of the statues and sarcophagi that were too large to be removed for safekeeping were defaced and smashed, their heads severed and their fragments left lying on the ground.
"We still don't know about the underground damage and the looting because of the mines planted by the Islamic State, but we can say that 80 percent of the archaeological architecture is undamaged," said Maamoun Abdulkarim, head of Syria's Directorate-General of Antiquities and Museums.
He added that it would take at least six years to restore the remains of Palmyra to its original beauty and glory.
"Tourists who will visit Palmyra in the future will enjoy the historical city as they used to, even with the terrorism wounds that will leave scars," assured Abdulkarim.
Restoration work to the city is already underway. The experts who have undertaken this mission, escorted by U.N. security forces, have determined emergency measures to stabilize and safeguard the cultural structures and buildings.
They have also identified the requisite work that goes into the mission in terms of documenting, evacuating, safeguarding and restoring the site as much as possible. Matching and documenting the parts of destroyed statues and other sculptures is already in progress.
Palmyra, often referred to as an oasis in the Syrian Desert, was once a key tourist destination until the Syrian conflict broke out in 2011.
Further, Islamic State terrorists took over Palmyra in May 2015, taking lives, creating havoc and causing significant destruction to the city. The terrorists were finally driven away by the army of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in March 2016.
The assessment of the Syrian city's damage quotient was carried out by UNESCO in April 2016. The team who visited the heritage site observed a minute of silence for all the victims who were murdered in the amphitheater, which was used by the terrorists for public executions.
A full report on the cultural site will be delivered by UNESCO at the World Heritage Committee's annual meeting in July in Istanbul, Turkey.
Photo: Varun Shiv Kapur | Flickr