What's left to salvage in Palmyra?

Palmyra: ruins left in ruins

Palmyra's giant pillars used to be recognized around the world. This long boulevard of antiquity was feared to have been pulverized in deliberate explosions conducted by the so-called "Islamic State" (IS). But recent images show that much of the Great Colonade survived IS and its reign of terror.

Like pieces of a puzzle

Syria's antiquities director Maamoun Abdulkarim intends to rebuild Palmyra to the state of its former glory. Ancient sites such as the Temple of Baal Shamin and the Temple of Bel will have to be pieced together like a puzzle after IS had demolished them in 2015. Still, Abdulkarim hopes that with the UN's help, Palmyra will be restored in five years' time.

Mass executions where plays once premiered

The fact that Palmyra's ancient amphitheater, built around 200 A.D., appears to have survived the brute force of IS' destruction campaign might be among the lesser surprises here. It was here that jihadists held mass executions last year, while also using the stage as their set for their violent propaganda videos. A memorial for these recent events will likely be part of the restoration efforts.

A bird's eye perspective

Aerial photographs reveal that other parts of the ancient city barely managed to withstand IS' deliberate destruction. The image on the right, taken on March 26, 2016, shows the extent of the damage after IS had blown up the Temple of Bel. On the left, the temple is seen intact before the jihadists' advance toward the UNESCO World Heritage site in May 2015.

Destruction beyond the ancient city

Palmyra's National Museum also suffered heavy losses under IS rule. Its treasures were looted, some were damaged, and others burned. The building itself lost parts of its roof but appears to have kept its structural integrity.

Liberation after almost a year of tyranny

Locals knew they had been liberated when the fortress of Qal'at Ibn Ma'n high on top of a hill in Palmyra was finally recaptured by government forces. The structure is thought to date back only to the 13th to 16th centuries, but prior to the IS occupation, it had always been part of Palmyra's tourist attraction route despite pertaining to more recent history.

Many of Palmyra's ruins appear to be in decent shape. Some archeologists hope that following its liberation the ancient city in the middle of the Syrian desert can be salvaged after all.