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The arches as seen in 2010 (photo by Varun Shiv Kapur / Flickr)

ISIS has destroyed the towering Arch of Triumph that stood for 1,800 years in the ancient city of Palmyra, the latest in the militant group’s series of attacks that threatens to completely obliterate the World Heritage Site. Syria’s Directorate-General for Antiquities and Museums (DGAM) confirmed from an eyewitness that ISIS blew up the monumental structure on Sunday, leaving yet another pile of rubble where an architectural treasure once stood.

“The Arch of Triumph was pulverized. IS has destroyed it,” Mohammad Hassan al-Homsi, an activist from Palmyra, told AFP. UNESCO’s director-general, Irina Bokova, condemned this latest loss as a war crime, as she has done following previous attacks on the city.

“This new destruction shows how extremists are terrified by history and culture — because understanding the past undermines and delegitimizes their claims — and embodies an expression of pure hatred and ignorance,” Bokova said in a statement. “Palmyra symbolizes everything that extremists abhor — cultural diversity, dialogue between cultures, the encounter of peoples of all origins in this caravan city between Europe and Asia.”

Triumphal arch and great colonnade, Palmyra, Syria, albumen print, 1864 (negative by Louis Vignes, photograph printed by Charles Nègre) (all images courtesy Getty Research Institute) (click to enlarge)

Built by Roman emperor Septimus Sevirus between 193 and 211 CE, the triple arch was one of the city’s most recognizable symbols, standing tall at the eastern end of Palmyra’s grand colonnade, which spanned one kilometer in length. Carved geometric and floral ornaments adorned its top; according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, ISIS “detonated the arches only and kept the pillars,” citing sources who claim the group targeted the arches due to their inscribed symbols. The Arch of Triumph connected the colonnade with a yard leading to the Temple of Bel, another historic structure militants recently destroyed.

“Every passing day, we at DGAM are more worried about this significant historic city of the invasion of ISIS and their terrorist militants, for what Palmyra stands for of tolerance and multicultural richness, the things ISIS hates,” DGAM said in a statement.

Just last week the Getty Research Institute announced its acquisition of a suite of 150-year-old photographs; among them are albumen prints of the arch as photographed by French naval officer Louis Vignes. The black-and-white images now exist as even rarer primary documentation of the majestic structures before ISIS’s devastation.

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Claire Voon

Claire Voon is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Singapore, she grew up near Washington, D.C. and is now based in Chicago. Her work has also appeared in New York Magazine, VICE,...

5 replies on “ISIS Destroys Palmyra’s 1,800-Year-Old Arch of Triumph”

  1. this is absolutely pathetic – when will the world leaders step up to stop these hoodlums – what will it take ?

  2. We need Bush Jr. back to kill the fuckers.
    Well, maybe not him ’cause he seems oblivious of what he had done and how, against the Taliban who destroyed the Buddha statues in Afghanistan.
    Yah, we need better, but not worse. That we have.

  3. In the last paragraph there is a typo…you mean albumen prints not acumen! Please fix…

  4. Palmyra is nearly 2000 years old. It is s rare place, showing an ancient society that looks like ours, with a large middle and upper middle class. A funny kind of place when you look at its commissioned statues. It was like looking in the mirror because people posed and showed off like we do now with smiles and relative comfort…

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