A video released by Apsa, the Association for the Protection of Syrian Archaeology, showed damage to Roman mosaics and the ancient stonework at the Unesco World Heritage site of Bosra in southern Syria.
Bosra, where a modern town sits next to an ancient site incorporating a 2nd century theatre and early Christian ruins, has been the scene of gun battles between rebel groups and government forces, some of which appear to have taken place within the Unesco-listed medina.
The video shows broken mosaics and shattered stone work in the ancient theatre, which once welcomed 15,000 spectators in front of a stage wall with a series of Corinthian columns.
A third video, which Telegraph Travel has chosen not to publish because of the graphic scenes of fighting it contains, shows men sheltering from gunfire in among the Roman columns and city walls that tourists were able to wander between prior to the war, which entered its fifth year last month.
A still from the video shows an archway surrounded by smoke from gunfire, in a location tourists at the site were free to access before the war.
Irina Bokova, director general of Unesco, expressed relief that those involved in the conflict at Bosra had agreed to end conflict at the World Heritage Site, stressing that areas around such places of cultural significant “should remain protected and be kept out of the conflict”.
Until the beginning of Syria’s conflict in 2011, Bosra, once the Roman capital of the Province of Arabia, was a significant draw for tourists to the country, as an easy day trip from Damascus, the capital, and was host to a biennial festival that took place within the amphitheatre.
Speaking from Amman in Jordan, one owner of a boutique hotel and travel agency in Damascus told Telegraph Travel about the devastation of his livelihood in the tourism industry. Prior to the war, he said, he had to turn down bookings because “demand by far exceeded available capacity” and there were “not enough guides, hotels and buses”. As the country slipped into war, he explained, “countless travel agencies, hotels, and restaurants had to shut down or were damaged or destroyed in the fighting”. He said that remaining establishments “are hosting people that have lost their homes or sought to stay in a safer area.”
Pictures also obtained by Apsa, a network of Europe and Syria-based archaeologists, shows the Unesco site at Bosra overgrown with weeds, a mosque with a collapsing roof, and the ground strewn with debris from gun battles.
The ancient city, once a significant stopover on pilgrims’ route to Mecca, has been a Unesco World Heritage Site since 1980, but was placed on the “sites in danger” list in 2013 as a result of the war in Syria. As well as the Roman theatre, it is home to the 8th-century Al-Omari Mosque and extensive vernacular architecture.
The latest reports from Bosra come after satellite imagery reported by Telegraph Travel showed previous damage to the ancient city.
The pictures, shot as part of a project on the damage to Syria’s Unesco sites by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, showed shell craters to the Al-Omari mosque, and evidence that the area had been “bombarded by mortars”.
Elsewhere in Syria, Apsa reported that the rooms of the museum at Idlib have been “completely cleared” and the archaeological collections “placed in crates” in the basement, after a bomb reportedly dropped by Assad aircraft hit the east side of the building.
The museum was best known for holding thousands of the Ebla tablets, 4,000-year-old blocks of stone that are highly significant in the history of writing, and highlight how this part of the Middle East was a trading and production hub, notably of beer.
Apsa said that the bomb damage opened the collections up to the threat of lootings, and that fresh bombings to the northern city, which was taken by Islamic groups last month, were also a risk.
The association is calling on international institutions to act to prevent further aerial bombing raids. It also appealed to the Islamist groups now controlling Idlib to allow civilians to protect the city’s archaeological sites and artefacts.
This week, the Syrian Network for Human Rights, a non-governmental organisation documenting the ongoing human rights violations in Syria, said that the taking of the city from the Assad troops lead to “escalated bombardment from government forces targeting the city and its vital centres, such as markets, and mosques and some Idlib rural cities.”
The area around the northern city used to be a draw for tourists for its 40 Unesco-listed “Ancient Villages” , that provided an insight into rural life in the transition towards the Roman and Byzantine Christian eras, and the ancient kingdom of Ebla.
The hotel owner from Damascus expressed a sentiment shared by many in the country who have survived the war: “Syrians must keep the hope that one day we will rebuild our country and reclaim our joint heritage and peaceful coexistence.”
By: Lizzie Porter
Source: The Telegraph