IS militants have severely damaged another architectural heritage treasure of the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra – this time the 2,000-year-old Temple of Bel, say the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The ancient ruin at the UNESCO World Heritage Site was attacked after the temple of Baal Shamin was dynamited last week. It is feared the temple complex could now be destroyed piece-by-piece.
Palmyra, 215 kilometres northeast of Damascus, is a jewel of the ancient world and is revered because its Greco-Roman ruins are so well preserved – but IS claim it promotes idolatry.
A Palmyra resident, named as Nasser al-Thaer, said militants set off a huge blast at 1.45 pm on Sunday.
“It is total destruction,’ he said of the scene of the explosion. “The bricks and columns are on the ground. It was an explosion the deaf would hear”
Constructed more than 1,900 year ago, the temple was dedicated to gods worshipped by a group of different cultures in the Ancient Middle East including Arabs, Assyrians, Phoenicians and Hebrews.
Showing their scientifically advanced knowledge, carvings of the then-known seven planets and constellation star formations adorn the interior.
The remains of a basin, altar and dining hall can be made out, along with a ramp where sacrificial animals were once led into the building.
It was constructed on an artificial hill which has been dated as more than 2,200 years old.
IS – also known as Daesh which is a loose acronym of the Arabic phrases “to trample down” or “to crush underfoot” – has already attacked the remains of the Temple of Baal Shamin and several statues in the city. The UN has called the destruction a war crime.
Militants also destroyed the treasured Lion of al-Lat – the 15-tonne, 3.5m-high piece of sculpture made out of limestone more around 2,000 years ago. The totem was believed in the ancient world to be the consort of al-Lat, the goddess of the underworld who abhorred violence.
Stood in front of the ruins of the Temple of al-Lat, it symbolised her anger towards anyone spilled blood in the city.
Dr Robert Bewley, Project Director at the School of Archaeology at Oxford, has predicted Palmyra will be razed to the ground “monument-by-monument” by IS to extract the greatest amount of propaganda opportunity out of the destruction.
He said: “One fear is that ISIS will do piecemeal damage over the coming weeks to keep the publicity machine running, so it will be a slow but equally destructive approach.”