Islamic State militants on Sunday blew up the ancient temple of Baal Shamin in the UNESCO-listed city of Palmyra, an official said, the latest in a series of cultural relics to be destroyed by the jihadist group.
Famed for well-preserved Greco-Roman ruins, Palmyra was seized from government forces in May, fueling fears the Islamic State, previously known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, might destroy its priceless heritage as it had done in other parts of Syria and Iraq.
Until Sunday, most of Palmyra’s most famous sites had been left intact, though there were reports IS had mined them and the group reportedly destroyed a famous statue of a lion outside the city’s museum.
“Daesh placed a large quantity of explosives in the temple of Baal Shamin today and then blew it up causing much damage to the temple,” Syria’s antiquities head Maamoun Abdulkarim said, using another name for IS.
“The cella [inner area of the temple] was destroyed and the columns around collapsed,” he said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based group that monitors the country’s civil war, confirmed the destruction of the temple.
Baal Shamin was built in 17 AD and it was expanded under the reign of Roman emperor Hadrian in 130 AD.
Its name first appeared on a tablet in the 19th century BC as a stopping point for caravans travelling on the Silk Road and between the Gulf and the Mediterranean.
However, it was during the Roman Empire — beginning in the first century BC and lasting another 400 years — that Palmyra rose to prominence.
Prior to the outbreak of the Syrian conflict in March 2011, more than 150,000 tourists visited Palmyra every year, admiring its beautiful statues, more than 1,000 columns, and formidable necropolis of more than 500 tombs.
IS had mined the ancient site in June before destroying the Lion Statue of Athena — a unique piece made of limestone that stood more than3m tall outside a museum.
Most of the pieces in the museum were evacuated by antiquities staff before IS arrived.
The latest developments come just days after IS militants beheaded the 82-year-old retired head archeologist of Palmyra, Khaled Asaad.
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