8 Ancient Monuments Destroyed By Modern War

8 Ancient Monuments Destroyed By Modern War

Stephanie Schoppert - March 27, 2017

War has torn apart nations and destroyed civilizations. It is only through luck and perseverance that ruins from the ancient world continue to survive today. But many of those ruins are now under attack and many that have stood for thousands of years have now become crumbling ruins due to the war that rages around them.

Many spectacular examples of Roman and Arab ancient civilizations have been blown apart by shelling, deliberately destroyed, or have been ravaged by providing a base for combatants. Here are just a few of the ancient monuments that have been destroyed by recent wars and some of which still await the opportunity to be restored.

8 Ancient Monuments Destroyed By Modern War
Bamiyan Buddha before and after the Taliban ordered it destroyed. Rawa.org

The Buddhas of Bamiyan, Afghanistan

The Buddhas of Bamiyan were created in the 6th century. Bamiyan lies along the Silk Road, where there were numerous Buddhist monasteries. It was a thriving religious center and Buddhist monks were known to live in small caves in which they carved into the Bamiyan cliffs. Over time the monks would decorate their caves with statues and frescoes. The two largest statues at the sight were the towering Buddhas. The largest stood at 58 meters tall and the smaller at 38 meters. A Buddhist pilgrim wrote about the sight in 630, and tells of the ten monasteries and 1,000 monks who called the cliffs home. He also told of the giant Buddhas draped with gold and fine jewels. There was even mention of a third Buddha at the site, but the fate of that one following the account is unknown.

The Buddhas withstood the test of time. In 1221, Genghis Khan attacked Bamiyan but the Buddhas remained. The Mughal emperor, Aurangzeb tried to destroy the statues with artillery in the 17th century, and the Persian king Nadar Afashar directed cannon fire at the statues sometime in the 18th century. The statues came out of the attacks scarred, but still standing. It was Afghan king Abdur Rahman Khan that successfully blew the face off the largest statue during the Shia Hazara rebellion.

In 2001, the laws of the Taliban became even more strict and all forms of imagery, music, and sports were banned. Locals and the international community begged for the statues to be preserved with countries offering to pay to hide them from view or even remove them entirely. But the Taliban refused and forced locals to filled the holes with dynamite and blow up the ancient statues.

The statues were completely destroyed. Many countries have pledged support to rebuild the statues, but there are fears that doing so would be impossible. In the meantime, a 3D projector was donated and now the images of the Buddhas are projected on the spots where they once stood.

8 Ancient Monuments Destroyed By Modern War
The Great Mosque of Aleppo. Top Image taken in 2012, bottom image in 2013. Goosereport.com

The Great Mosque of Aleppo, Syria

Construction of the mosque was started by Ummayad caliph al-Walid I in 715 and finished two years later. There is some debate over the true patron of the mosque, but much of the original mosque was lost long ago. In the 11th century, the Mirdasids had control over Aleppo and built a domed fountain in the middle of the courtyard. Then at the northwest corner of the mosque, a 45-meter-high minaret was built between 1090 and 1094. From the 11th through the 13th century, renovations and expansions to the mosque were commissioned and made the mosque the largest one in all of Aleppo.

The Great Mosque was known for the black and white stone floor of the courtyard which featured intricate geometric shapes. There are two fountains in the courtyard and an open prayer platform. The interior of the mosque has a main prayer hall to the courtyard’s south and features the shrine of Zechariah. The large prayer hall has been renovated over the years, and centuries of history can be seen in the design and construction of the great hall. There are also three other halls that that completely surround the courtyard and date from the 11th to the 14th centuries.

The minaret that stood by the mosque was unique in terms of Muslim architecture. One archaeologist credited it as being Mediterranean with elements of Gothic architecture. An anthropologist believed that it was a local phenomenon, something found only in Aleppo and Edessa. Next to the mosque is a small museum that holds numerous ancient texts and objects.

During the Syrian civil war the Great Mosque was heavily damaged. The interior halls were destroyed, looted and filled with debris. The courtyard is covered in rubble and smashed. The minaret is completely destroyed and the museum looted. There is hopes to rebuild and some rebels claim that they were able to take and hide many of the museum’s sacred texts, but until the war in Syria ends, there is little that can be done.

8 Ancient Monuments Destroyed By Modern War
Tomb of Jonah before it’s destruction by ISIS. Greenprophet.com

The Tomb of Jonah

Jonah’s Tomb at Ninevah was built around the 8th century and was believed to be the burial place of the prophet Jonah in both the Christian and Muslim faiths. Over time, it has been proven that that the remains at the site are not the true remains of the prophet, but the site has continued to be an important piece of Iraqi heritage. The tomb is actually built on top of a large site of an ancient Assyrian city, which named Ninevah. There are two mounds of the ancient remains, Kouyunkik and Nabi Yunus. The ruins underneath Nabi Yunus were never excavated because of the desire to preserve the shrine that was built upon the believed tomb of Jonah that sits on the mound.

8 Ancient Monuments Destroyed By Modern War
The remains of the mosque and shrine at the Tomb of Jonah. Daily Mail

The tomb for years was a site of pilgrimage and prayer. It once held a skeleton to represent the remains of the whale that swallowed Jonah and then later a whale tooth. When the skeleton and the tooth disappeared, the U.S. government presented the Tomb with a replica sperm whale tooth to keep in the shrine. The shrine was still a place of daily prayer up until July 2014 when ISIS fighters turned away worshipers. The terrorist group had taken control of Mosul the month before and had made threats against the site.

After evacuating the shrine and turning away worshipers, ISIS forces rigged the entire building with explosives and leveled the shrine to the ground while a crowd watched. They also threatened the ruins on the site that still remained of the ancient Assyrian city. It was not until 2014 when Iraqi forces recaptured that area of Mosul that the extent of the damage was truly seen.

The fence surrounding the shrine and the artifacts within were completely destroyed. Under the ruins of the temple was a tunnel. The tunnel led through the ancient ruins of Ninevah and the palace underneath which had been previously untouched and dated back to 600 BC. Most of what could be removed and sold was gone from the site, but many ancient carvings in the walls remain.

8 Ancient Monuments Destroyed By Modern War
Second century Roman theater the centerpiece of the ancient city of Bosra. ibtimes.co.uk

The Ancient City of Bosra, Syria

Records of the ancient city of Bosra in Syria date back to the 14th century BC. In 106, the city was incorporated into the Roman Empire and new structures were added to the city when it came under Roman rule. Most notabe in the 2nd century was the addition of a Roman theater which remained remarkably well persevered over the centuries and was fortified sometime between 481 and 1251.

In 634, the Arabs entered the city as part of Islamic expansion. With over 2,500 years of remarkably preserved history, Bosra was named a world heritage site. Perhaps even more remarkable is that even after 2,000 years the ancient buildings and houses are still used as homes today.

Bosra was also home to the Al-Omari Mosque which is one of the oldest surviving mosques in Islamic history dating back to the 7th century. The Cathedral of Bosra is also a marvelous exhibit of early Christian architecture. Every bit of the city is an open-air museum with evidence of centuries of different peoples and civilizations taking root in the ancient buildings.

The civil war in Syria has taken its toll on the city. Since the city’s ancient stone dwellings continue to act as homes there is little distinction between the historical site and residences. Reports from those near the city claim that the mosque and the theater have been damaged by shelling. There is video evidence of some of the homes in city with bomb and fire damage. Another video makes reference to tanks destroying the ancient city. Other reports reference illegal constructions and threats against the historical buildings. Efforts continue to try and convince both sides to do what it takes to save Bosra but it is unclear how much damage has been done and how much will be done before the war is over.

8 Ancient Monuments Destroyed By Modern War
Crac des Chevaliers just before the start of the Syrian Civil War. The Daily Beast

Crac des Chevaliers

Crac des Chevaliers is a medieval castle in Syria that is one of the most important and best preserved in the world. The castle was built by Kurdish troops in the 11th century and then was given to the Knights Hospitaller in 1142. It was renovated from 1140 until 1170 after being damaged by an earthquake, but remained under the possession of the Knights Hospitaller until 1271. It was not until the 19th century that the name Crac des Chevaliers was given to the castle.

The Hospitallers controlled a number of castles along the border of the County of Tripoli, but Crac des Chevaliers acted as an administrative center and military base. In the 13th century additional building was done on the site to make it into a concentric castle with the addition of the outer wall. In the 19th century, architectural plans were drawn up of the site due to renewed interest in medieval castles at the time.

Sometime in the 19th or 20th century, a settlement built up inside the castle and began to damage the fabric. So in 1933 the inhabitants were moved out and the French began restoration of the site. In 1946 Syria declared independence and took over control of the castle.

With the outbreak of the Syrian civil in 2011, the Crac des Chevaliers was one of the world heritage sites that UNESCO feared might be in danger of being destroyed. Fears were confirmed when the castle was reportedly shelled in August 2012. It was damaged again during an airstrike in July 2013 and then again in August 2013. In 2014 the Syrian Arab Army was able to recapture the castle and while the extent of the damage is still largely unknown, the Syrian government had said that they have already begun repairs.

8 Ancient Monuments Destroyed By Modern War
Photo of the The Al-Askari Mosque prior to the 2006 bombing. Wikipedia

The Al-Askari Mosque of Samarra – Iraq

The Al-Askari Shrine was built in 944 and is one of the most important Shī‘ah shrines in the world. The Al-Askari Mosque is next to the shrine. The shrine is one of the holiest sites and the remains of the 10th and 11th Shī‘ah Imāms rest at the shrine. Both of them are considered to be descendants of the Prophet Muhammad and the Shī‘ah consider them to be among his successors. Other important religious figures are buried at the site and it remains a very important part of Shī‘ah history. The shrine is also the location of the disappearance of the 12th Imām whom the Shī‘ah believe will one day return and restore justice to humanity.

8 Ancient Monuments Destroyed By Modern War
Photo of the Al Askari Mosque after the 2006 bombing. Time.com

Nasir as-Din Shah Qajar remodeled the shrine in 1868 and the golden dome was added 1905. The dome was covered in 72,000 gold pieces. The golden dome and light blue tiled shrine was one of the most prominent and loved features of the Samarra skyline.

In 2006, the skyline was changed when a bombing destroyed the golden dome on the top of the ancient shrine. Several men dressed in Iraqi Special Forces uniforms entered the mosque and set two bombs. No one was injured in the initial blast of the explosion, however retaliatory violence followed. Over the next few days more than 1,000 people lost their lives in the ensuing violence. In 2007, al-Qaeda operatives destroyed the two golden minarets that flanked the ruined dome.

By late 2007, plans were already underway to restore the shrine and mosque. The dome and minarets were both rebuilt and restored as best as possible and it was finally reopened in April 2009. The dome was recovered with gold by September 2009.

8 Ancient Monuments Destroyed By Modern War
A lamassu at the North West Palace of Ashurnasirpal II before destruction in 2015. Wikipedia

Nimrud, Iraq

Nimrud was founded in the 13th century BC and was home to the palace of the Assyrian King Ashurnasirpal II. The site was decorated with massive stone statues of winged guardians known as lamassu. The site also held temples to Ninurta and Enlil who were Assyrian gods. From 1350 BC until 610 BC, Nimrud was a major Assyrian city. Nimrud is one of the main sources of Assyrian sculpture and some of its large lamassu statues made their way to Britain following excavations in 1847.

The name Nimrud is modern and is believed to come from the Bliblical Nimrod. The ruins were identified as the city referenced in the Bible as Calah. Nimrud became the capital of the Assyrian empire in 883 BCE when King Ashurnasirpal II made the city his capital and built a large palace in the city. During his reign the city was home to as many as 100,000 people and it was his son who built the monument that is known as the Great Ziggurat.

In 2015 a militant video showed ISIS militants deliberately destroying the statues and ruins at Nimrud. The militants drove through the city and told nearby residents to open their windows so as not to have them be shattered by the shock wave from their explosives. Then the video shows the militants hammering, bulldozing, and detonating explosives in order to destroy the site.

In November 2016 aerial photographs were able to capture the ISIS militants systematically leveling the Ziggurat and the international community spoke out. Later that same month the Iraqi Army was able to recapture the city from ISIS and stop the destruction.

8 Ancient Monuments Destroyed By Modern War
Photos of the Temple of Bel before and after ISIL occupation of Palmyra. France24.com

Palmyra, Syria

Palmyra dates back to the second millennium BC and was established as an ancient Semitic city. In the first century AD, it came under the Roman Empire and the city grew to include stunning examples of Roman architecture. Huge monuments such as the Great Colonnade and the Temple of Bel were focal points of the city. A large Roman theater also withstood the test of time and remained at the site for nearly 2,000 years.

In 273, the city was destroyed but rebuilt at a smaller size. In the 4th century the inhabitants converted to Christianity and then to Islam following Islamic conquests. In 1400 the city was once again partially destroyed by the Timurids and was reduced to just a small village. In 1932, the French removed the inhabitants and allowed archaeologists into the site. In 1980 it became a world heritage site because of the unique history of the ancient city.

The site became endangered following the outbreak of Syrian civil war in 2011. In 2013 there were reports of looting and damage to the ancient Temple of Bell from mortar fire, and some of the columns had shrapnel damage. In 2015, ISIS attacked the town of Tadmur and left many in fear that the group, who oppose icons of any sort, would damage Palmyra. On May 21, artifacts that could be moved were transported from the Palmyra museum to Damascus. ISIS invaded the city on the very same day.

Bombs from the Syrian air force damaged the northern wall of the Temple of Baalshamin. The Roman theater was used by ISIS as a place for executions in front of crowds, including Palmyra’s retired antiquities chief who refused to expose where the city’s treasures had been hidden. ISIS ravaged the ancient city, destroying statues and temples, including the Temple of Bel. Syrian forces managed to recapture the city after 10 months, only to have ISIS take it back and cause more destruction, including damaging the Roman theater. In March 2017, Syrian forces once again retook the city.