In Brief

ISIS Destroys Palmyra’s 1,800-Year-Old Arch of Triumph

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