One of my most popular blog posts that I have ever written was on the ongoing destruction of historic Mecca by Saudi Arabia and whilst one day soon I hope to write more on the topic, I thought for now it was important to write about some of the destruction of priceless artifacts that is taking place in the Middle-East by Islamic extremists in Syria, Iraq and other places whose philosophy and perhaps even support comes from sections of the very wealthy and apparently valued ally that is Saudi Arabia.
Throughout history civilisation has been threatened by heathens who have nothing to offer any society except for destruction and death. Sometimes their destructive ways even tag people centuries later such as the Vandals who destroyed Rome, others such as The Mongols no matter what benefits they might have brought are forever remembered for their countless massacres and destruction of works of art or civilisation such as the destruction of the fabled Library of Alexandria in Egypt or the sheer terror and sacrilege of the Viking raids in the Abbeys of north-east England.
Isis/Isil or whatever name the current mob go by are simply the latest in a long line of what historically we’d label barbarians. One way or the other they always end up defeated simply because they have nothing to offer anyone outside their group and eventually factions will appear with some wanting to civilise themselves and others becoming increasingly extreme until they become isolated and numerically irrelevant.
What makes the events in the Middle-East particularly tragic is that in their every day actions the extremists are proving just how backwards they have become and how their ancestors up to 7,000 years ago were infinitely more civilised. They are the equivalent of the crazy hillbilly or school bullies who every knows is crazy and stupid but all the normal people are held to ransom by them.
It doesn’t take much reading to discover that for almost 1,000 years the best buildings, greatest works of art and culture and most advanced astronomers, mathematicians and scientists were Islamic and inspired by a religion that demanded rational thinking and advancement. Pretty much everything that those present day extremists are against.
Historically it hasn’t just been an Islamic phenomenon with Nazi book burning, Communist destruction of art and architecture and the Khmer Rouge murdering or everyone labelled as an Intellectual but there had been a growing trend which was first highlighted to many by the destruction of the giant buddhas in Afghanistan which were blown up by the Taliban on the puritan pretence that we should only worship God and that admiring arty sculptures is taking away some of the rightful glory of God. Nearly 20 years on, the statues are only now in the process of being rebuilt using the original debris but of course it will never quite be the same again.
The last few weeks has seen unprecedented destruction, one such place is Khorsabad. Now a village in northern Iraq but once Dur-Sharrakin, the capital of the legendary Assyrian Empire around 721BC. It’s worth remembering that amid the current discussion on returning artefacts from the world museums of London, Paris, New York and other places, just how important they are in safeguarding priceless treasures both now and in the pas that may have otherwise now been destroyed such as these magnificent statues from Iraq I saw last year in the Louvre.
Entire ruined cities every bit as historic and important as Pompeii are rumoured of being demolished and smashed such as the Sasanid city of Hatra 180 miles NW of Baghdad which once fort off the Roman Empire and survived countless invasions from the Arabs through the Mongols, Ottomans, British and Americans was reported to have been destroyed by militants on 7th March 2015.
One has to fear for the legendary arch of Ctesiphon, the oldest free standing arch in the world built in 540AD. I remember learning about this great arch and the people who built it at university and made a pledge to visit it one day. Saddam Hussein deliberately positioned military equipment there know that it would likely not be targeted in such a precious site. Let’s hope it survives the next few years and doesn’t meet the same end as the Afghanistan Buddhas that I also wanted to see.
Nimrod which is also in Iraq was another precious ruined city first settled almost 1,000 BC and full of priceless pottery, statues and irreplaceable ancient texts on religion, magic, culture and even peace treaties has in the last month reportedly been bulldozed by Islamic extremists over 3,000 years after they were created.
Many of us will have seen the shocking footage on TV news of the Crazies going through Mosul museum with sledgehammers destroying objects they know nothing about and which none of their number could ever create themselves in the name of a a God and a religion who once nurtured these same priceless creations.
It’s been reported that 80% of the Syrian city of Dura Europos has been excavated and destroyed to a depth of 3 metres (15 feet) by heavy machinery by extremists intent on destroying some of the very oldest churches and synagogues as well as over 3,000 other buildings and objects.
Little is known of the ancient city of Mari in Syria which is thought to be over 5,000 years old where there was a 300 room palace from which this fresco originates from. Excavations here only began well into the 20th century but have already uncovered over 25,000 clay tablets that are transforming our knowledge of the ancient world. Sadly the site is now under the occupation of hundreds of armed militants intent on destroying monuments and undiscovered treasures before we can ever know what they are.
It’s not just ancient monuments of art being destroyed but much more recent wonders. Crac de Chavaliers in Syria was a Crusader built castle and is possibly the most fantastical castle in the whole world but has been severely damaged by the fighting between extremists and the Syrian Army. Other neighbouring castles and old buildings have like wise been severely damaged.
Syria is also home to one of the greatest Roman cities in the world in the shape of Palmyra which after its re-discovery by British and French travellers a few centuries greatly encouraged the trend towards neo-classical architecture that is seen all over the UK and the great public buildings of the United States. Sadly the site has been looted by Islamists before being occupied by Syrian tanks that apparently rumble through the city machine gunning terrorists as they hide amongst the ruins.
Syria has many great old cities but perhaps except for Damascus, none the greater than Aleppo which has been lived in for over 8,000 years. As I learned in my history cause, there are still giant stone catapult balls that the Mongols fired against the citadel walls in the 13th century that haven’t moved in nearly 800 years. In fact before WW1 the city had lived through the Hittites, Assyrians, Akkadians, Greeks, Romans, Umayyads, Ayyubids, Mongols, Mameluks, and Ottomans and home to pagans, Jews, Christians and Muslims.
The United Nations reports that large areas of Aleppo have been entirely wiped out, even the famed Umayyad Mosque, one of the indisputably beautiful mosques in the world has been badly damaged. For westerners who might not be overly bothered about this, it is worth remembering that the mosque also holds one of the holiest relicts of Christianity, the alleged head of John the Baptist.
It’s sadly not just the Middle-East where cultural heritage is in danger from Islamic extremists. Terrorists in Mali have all ready savaged and destroyed many priceless artefacts in the famous Islamic city of Timbuktu until chased out by French backed forces. Today the country of Libya is in chaos and some of the worlds greatest historic sites are at risk of being systematically destroyed by religious extremists. Though there are countless smaller sites at risk it is obviously high profile sites like Leptis Magna that are obvious targets from the Roman and Phoenician Empires. Even further back in time, Libya hosts some rock art going back 14,000 years. If extremists looted historic mosques during the Libyan Revolution then it’s hard to imagine what might happen here.
All in all over 1.5 million historic and architectural sites are deemed at risk from ISIS related activities and with this weeks terrorist attack in a museum in Tunisia, the menace is growing.