Cultural Vandalism – The destruction of priceless monuments by ISIS / ISIL

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.

Islamic Terrorism

Map showing in red areas most affected by Islamic terrorism excluding S.E. Asia, USA and Argentina. Areas shaded blue responsible for State funding / support of Islamic State.

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.

The Ruins of Hatra

The Ruins of Hatra in Iraq here being visited by American infantry but now reportedly severely damaged by Islamic extremists.

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.

Legendary creatures of Babylon

Legendary creatures of Babylon to visit in London and Paris but perhaps not any longer in Iraq.

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.

Arch Of Ctesiphon

Arch Of Ctesiphon – the oldest free standing arch in the world at risk along with many other already destroyed sites in Iraq.

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.

Cultural Vandalism

To most normal people this is Cultural Vandalism of irreplaceable artefacts. To ISIS these are Shirk or idolatry.

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.

Mari fresco

This Mari fresco is thankfully in a Paris museum otherwise it would now be forever lost like thousands of other items in Mari.

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.

Crac des Chevaliers

This Crusader Castle is one of the most massive in the world.

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.

Ruined Crac Des Chavaliers

Ruined Crac Des Chavaliers damaged by terrorists and even bombed by the Syrian Airforce!

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.


The Temple of Bel, just a small part of Palmyra in Syria before the war.

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.

Umayyad Mosque in Syria

Umayyad Mosque in Syria before the war

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.

Umayyad Mosque in ruins

Umayyad Mosque in ruins

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.


Sabratha , one of many Roman ruins on the coast of Libya.

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.

About Stephen Liddell

I am a writer and traveller with a penchant for history and getting off the beaten track. With several books to my name including several #1 sellers. I also write environmental, travel and history articles for magazines as well as freelance work. I run my private tours company with one tour stated by the leading travel website as being with the #1 authentic London Experience. Recently I've appeared on BBC Radio and Bloomberg TV and am waiting on the filming of a ghost story on British TV. I run my own private UK tours company (Ye Olde England Tours) with small, private and totally customisable guided tours run by myself!
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17 Responses to Cultural Vandalism – The destruction of priceless monuments by ISIS / ISIL

  1. Pingback: The destruction of historic Mecca by Saudi Arabia | Stephen Liddell

  2. Dave Miller says:

    Excellent post Stephen. ISIS has nothing to offer but death, hatred and suffering but before they and their kind are consigned to history’s dustbin, where they belong, many millions of people will have their lives destroyed and our global culture will suffer irreparable damage. I usually am against war and conflict but, in this case, I can’t see any other recourse. Let’s get these animal, crooks, criminals and, frankly, apostates, out. Of course, easy to say but very difficult to do.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Francis says:

    I’m crying as I write this.. I actually saw places like bamiyan while hitchng the hippy trail back in sergeant pepper days.

    Liked by 1 person

    • All of these places I wanted to visit after university but never got around to due to needing to start work and get on the property ladder. I only expected things to get safer and more accessible as the years went by, not for half of it to be deliberately destroyed. It’s terribly sad.


  4. Boyer Writes says:

    This terrible threat seems to be slowly moving across the world…with only death and destruction in its path. I have written some posts on the many Christians that are dying simply because they are Christian. I think everyone is amazed when monuments of all faiths have stood for thousands of years. My husband just got back from the Holy Land and Petra. I’m certain if ISIS were to get into these places, there would be nothing left. So sad…so criminal. Thank you for writing, Stephen.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, they don’t seem to offer anything except death, destruction and a return to the most backwards of middle-age nations if not the stone age. It’s sad that for centuries many ancestors of these terrorists were Christians and for a millennia after the old and new religion lived together in peace. I’ve been to Petra too and it is one of the most special places in the world. I’m very glad that you enjoyed it.


  5. Pingback: Destruction vs Inspiration …for your pleasure! | BOYER WRITES

  6. Mama Cormier says:

    A new museum has opened up in Toronto called the Aga Khan Museum. I went there this week and was thrilled to be able to see so many artefacts from the areas that you described. I had a discussion with my friend who wasn’t as impressed with the place as I was. I told her after all the destruction from the Iraq and Afghanastan wars alone we were lucky to be able to have these things to look at and appreciate. It is sad that the senseless destruction continues.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes we have an Aga Khan centre in London too but I haven’t visited it. When you hear about all the campaigns to return various treasures to their original homes and then see what happens now, in a way it is a good thing that they are in relatively safe and stable cities.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Malla Duncan says:

    I sometimes wonder what has happened to the world. Everywhere there seems to be so much destruction and killing. Including our animals. Are we entering another dark age, I wonder? If so, why? Why now? Why this way? As though we have slid back into the 14th century suddenly. Why have these people so suddenly come upon the world as though someone, somewhere, left a gate open? Is it because our education systems have become so poor in many instances? Is it lack of vigilance and timeous preemptive action? Is it because of complacency? Here in South Africa, I feel this strange, loose mindset is beginning to emerge here as well. Recently students at the University of Cape Town smeared a statue of Cecil John Rhodes with human excrement because they don’t like it being there. There is a growing sense of…if the past doesn’t suit you, or there is something you don’t like, then you have the right to destroy it. Destruction seems to have become the fashion rather than construction. So. Another dark age?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I wonder that too. Yesterday I even wondered if this is why a century or two ago the Upper Classes were against democracy and the power of the people as they argued that the masses weren’t able to appreciate or understand arts and culture and in a way even though we shouldn’t go back it does seem to a degree that there is a percentage of people everywhere that just don’t understand or deserve civilisation. There doesn’t seem to be anywhere teaching people to be responsible or to improve life. The new rising powers are just about making money and conserving their corrupt regimes and the western ones are so tired and pre-occupied with ‘rights’ rather than duties and obligations that we’re running to stand still. Yesterday in London we saw a statue of the man who built all the main railways out of London and it was defaced a few hours earlier. My tour guests were shocked and we wondered whether the vandals would be capable of matching anything this great man created 200 years earlier.


  8. Boyer Writes says:

    Stephen, I could not help but write a further comment about destruction by ISIS. Tonight on 60 minutes, a Sunday night program here in the U.S., there was a special on those Christians who have fled the area of Mosul, Iraq and beyond…where Christians have been living and worshiping for 2,000 years. One priest interviewed said he had five minutes to grab anything he could before fleeing. He took five ancient manuscripts that were from the 1st century. He said there were hundreds more that had to be left behind and he knew that ISIS would destroy them. It was more than he could think about and burst into tears. Not only are monuments being destroyed and places of worship…both Christian and Muslim, but ancient sacred texts. ISIS has released pictures of men with sledge hammers crushing crosses and removing crosses from the top of churches….replacing them with the flag of ISIS. The Arch Bishop interviewed said that when the U.S. pulled out in 2011, it left this void and the defenseless at the mercy of such evil. His prayer is that there will not only be air strikes but a strong army to once again wipe out the invaders. He reminded us of all the lives that were lost defending Mosul in the past. Some Christians from the U.S. and other parts of the world have gone there now to help the army that is fighting against ISIS. Without defense of these people and the taking back of the territory, Christians will never be able to return to their homes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s so sad that people have protected and venerated these documents for thousands of years only to be destroyed by people whom many of their number can barely read or write. I know until the 1980’s the Middle-East had very large Christian minorities and now they have nearly all fled to Britain, Germany and the USA. I notice every time I visit Egypt just how more extreme the country is becoming. I hope that someone puts them in their place soon.


  9. Thank you for another very interesting and thought provoking post Stephen. I too have been to Egypt and Petra and been lucky enough to see the wondrous sites from Ancient times, I sincerely hope they will be there for future generations to appreciate.

    Liked by 1 person

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