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Ancient artefacts are being destroyed in the Syrian war

Christian historical settlements built on limestone mountains and located in the magical northwestern part of Syria are being demolished in the war. These Dead Cities — or Forgotten Cities, trace their roots back into the times of early Christianity and form part of the UNESCO World Heritage


As early as the Byzantine period, more than two-thousand Syrian Christian churches could be found on these mountains.

Bordered by the Orontes River from the west and the fertile plain from the east through which the highway connecting Aleppo and Damascus runs, this land has become a place of hostility and war. The Syrian government intends to push out those armed groups listed as “terrorist organisations” from this region. The military launched numerous operations to achieve this goal; most were successful. However, the Turkish military offensive and the creation of a “safe zone” sparked violence once again with the Kurdish people of the region who had achieved partial autonomy.

Dead Cities, Syria. Source: public domain

During the conflict, the Turkish air force conducted several airstrikes which caused untold damages to the historical monuments. One of them was the Cathedral of Saint Simeon Stylites that was bombed at least twice.

The Syrian government submitted a report to the UN on the 5th of February, 2016, detailing the damages done to  historical sites.

In the same year, the UNESCO condemned the bombing of 1,500-year-old Christian artefacts. Before the war had begun, the Cathedral functioned as an important place of pilgrimage. Tragically, its main symbol, the stylite of Simeon, was severely damaged later.

The report issued by Damascus also says that illegal excavations were conducted in the Byzantine cities by members of the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham terrorist organisation which has links to al-Qaeda.

As a consequence, valuable art treasures and an remnants were discovered. Smugglers moved these items that were later bought by foreign collectors and individuals. Furthermore, the historical sites have been used as bunkers and shelters since 2013.

Dead Cities, Syria. Source: public domain

The monument complex known as the Dead Cities were built on the highlands of the Belus Limestone Massif. It ranges hundred and forty kilometres long in a north-south direction. Dating back to the fourth century AD, in this mountain range running through the provinces of Aleppo and Idlib, there have been around seven hundred settlements.

Uniquely in this area there are more than two thousand churches left, all bearing the marks of early Christianity. This part of the region enjoyed its greatest prosperity in the sixth century AD, but after the spread of Islam, it began to decline.

As a result of intensifying Byzantine-Muslim conflict in the tenth century AD, the settlements started to depopulate. Christians communities have resettled in the much safer Principality of Antioch and seaside territories.


Source: Adonis Kassab (Vasá 

Feature image: Dead Cities, Syria (public domain)





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