Air raids by Turkish warplanes on the Kurdish-held enclave of Afrin in northern Syria have partially destroyed the ancient temple complex of Ain Dara, renowned for its finely carved reliefs. Built in the iron age by the Arameans, sometime between the 10th and 8th centuries BCE, the site is also notable for its structural similarities to King Solomon’s Temple — the first temple in ancient Jerusalem — as described in the Bible. News of the air strikes, which occurred on Friday, were confirmed by the Britain-based war monitor, Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, and Syria’s antiquities department.
According to the BBC, the Observatory estimates that about 60% of the temple was destroyed. Photographs of the site taken after the air strikes show its courtyard, originally paved with flagstones, covered with rubble. The temple itself stood on a limestone platform and was lined with basalt blocks sculpted to resemble lions and sphinxes; near its entrance, carved into the stone floor, was also a series of giant footprints, which some scholars believe were intended to represent traces of deities who resided in the sanctuary. The temple complex was first excavated by archaeologists in 1955, after they found a massive basalt lion on the site.
Syria’s Directorate-General of Antiquities and Museums condemned the attack in a statement, saying that it “reflects the hatred and barbarism of the Turkish regime against the Syrian identity and against the past, present and future of the Syrian people.
“DGAM appeals to all concerned international organizations and all those interested in world heritage to condemn this aggression and to pressure the Turkish regime to prevent the targeting of archeological and cultural sites in Efrin, one of the richest areas in Syria.”
The air strikes were part of a military offensive the Turkish government launched on January 20 against the People’s Protection Units — or the mainly Kurdish militia known as the YPG — to secure Afrin from what it considers a terrorist organization. Beyond the damage to historical remains, the human cost since the operation began is alarming: the United Nation estimates that 5,000 civilians have been displaced and dozens have been killed, according to Reuters.