Satellite images have confirmed the destruction of the Temple of Bel - the largest building in the ancient city of Palmyra - by terrorist outfit ISIS
The photos released by the UN training and research agency (Unitar) show the flattened remains of the 2,000 year-old building, following reports of a loud blast at the site. Only the two columns at the entrance to the building’s cella remain of the temple’s inner court.
The news comes less than two weeks after ISIS militants beheaded Khaled Asaad, the 82-year-old antiquities chief at the ancient city of Palmyra, followed by the razing of the nearby Baal Shamin temple.
A tweet from Unitar said: “Satellite analysis confirms Temple of Bel #Palmyra #Syria main building destroyed.”
The building was dedicated in 32AD, and fused near eastern and Greco Roman architecture.
The largest building in Palmyra, it contained a cella (inner temple) with two chambers, framed by pillars that are believed to have inspired US architects including those responsible for the Capitol Building and White House.
Historian Tom Holland, who has written a number of books about classical civilisation, told AJ: “Travellers visited Palmyra at the end of the 18th century and did line drawings that sold all over the USA – these influenced the construction of Washington.
‘The Temple of Bel is the embodiment of everything that made Palmyra what it was – Greek architecture came together with Roman urban planning and fused with earlier traditions. It was an incredibly precious illustration of the melting pot character in the Near East at the time it was built.’
Holland said that it was too early to say whether the building could ever be rebuilt.
‘It depends on what has been left. Other classic temples including the Parthenon were pieced back together from remains.
‘But even if ISIS is removed from the area, it will depend on what sort of settlement happens, how people want to memorialise the war, and if ISIS remains as a force in the area.’
Source: RIBA Collections
He added that it was natural that public opinion should be as outraged about the destruction of a building as that of the human casualties of ISIS.
Holland said: ‘The casualty figures can become numbing. We recognise in architecture and the legacy of civilisations of the past the things that make us human and everything that makes human life valuable.
We mourn the legacy of individual achievement
‘When we mourn a building stood for 2,000 years we mourn the legacy of individual achievement rather than just for the building itself.’
A local man told the BBC that only the outer boundary wall and the gateway to the temple remained.
On Monday, prior to the release of the satellite images, the head of the Syrian Department of Antiquities and Museums, had said that he believed most of the site had remained intact following an explosion.