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Director-General condemns the destruction of the Arch of Triumph in Palmyra: “Extremists are terrified of history"

05 October 2015


L’Arc de triomphe de Palmyre
© Teo Jioshvili

The Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, today strongly condemned the destruction of the Arch of Triumph in Palmyra, an iconic 2,000-year-old civil monument of the city that is inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

"This new destruction shows how terrified by history and culture the extremists are, because understanding the past undermines and delegitimizes the pretexts they use to justify these crimes and exposes them as expressions of pure hatred and ignorance. Palmyra symbolizes everything that extremists abhor; cultural diversity, intercultural dialogue, the encounter of different peoples in this centre of trading between Europe and Asia.

“Despite their relentless crimes, extremists will never be able to erase history, nor silence the memory of this site that embodies the unity and identity of the Syrian people. Each new destruction should spur us to share knowledge of the significance of this heritage in museums, schools or the media. This is an important part of safeguarding the city and of the global fight against the cultural cleansing underway in the Middle East. I commend teachers, journalists, associations, and professionals in the field of culture, as well as members of the public, who are helping transmit the story of Palmyra to future generations.

“There will be no impunity for war criminals and UNESCO will make every effort, at its level and in close cooperation with the International Criminal Court, to ensure that the perpetrators of these acts of destruction are tried and punished. In the face of this new war crime, UNESCO reaffirms its determination to continue protecting all that can be saved by relentlessly fighting against the illicit trafficking of cultural objects, documenting heritage and establishing networks to link the thousands of experts in Syria and abroad working to transmit this heritage, notably with the help of modern technology.”

The Arch of Triumph, built by Septimius Severus between 193 and 211 AD, is a symbol of the city, whose image has traveled around the world. A masterpiece of civil architecture and urban planning, the Arch was topped by geometric and floral ornaments. It marked the junction between the immense colonnade more than one kilometer in length and the Temple of Bel, also destroyed this year.