Russian harpist plays at Palmyra to inaugurate archaeological restoration project

Russian harpist plays at Palmyra to inaugurate archaeological restoration project
3 min read
21 December, 2021
Russian archaeologists announced on Monday they would begin a two-year restoration project of Palmyra's iconic landmark.
Though IS militants blew up the arch in 2015, archaeologists said that the ruins of the structure were salvageable [Getty]

Russian and Syrian regime soldiers watched as a famed Russian harpist played on the ruins of Palmyra on Monday to inaugurate the planned restoration of the Arch of Triumph, the city's iconic landmark.

The Russian-led project to restore the arch will begin in March and is expected to last two years, Russian outlet TVZvezda reported. Though the structure was blown up by IS militants, archeologists said that individual stone blocks were largely left intact on the ground where the structure used to stand.

Local quarries contain the same type of marble limestone contained in the structures, and they will be used to fill in gaps of the damaged stone.

Palmyra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in the central Syrian Desert, was an ancient trading city whose Greco-Roman buildings remained extant up until 2015. The archeological site was a popular tourist destination prior to the Syrian civil war, and a place of pride for Syrian heritage.

Much of the ancient city was destroyed by IS in 2015 when the group took control of the area and purposefully detonated ruins. The group also beheaded Khaled al-Asaad, the head of antiquities at Palmyra. The 83-year-old was tortured and his body mutilated after he refused to tell IS where valuable artifacts were located.

The Russian ministry of defence reportedly will maintain the security of the site while restoration takes place, Moscow says.

"Russia should take the lead … if only because Russian specialists have cleared Palmyra," Natayla Solovyova, a project manager for the arch restoration project told the Russian outlet.

In 2017, Syrian regime and Russian soldiers pushed IS from Palmyra. Since then the area has been guarded by regime and Russian soldiers, as well as mercenaries from the Wagner Group, a Russian private military contractor connected with the Russian ministry of defence.

Russia and the Syrian regime have been eager to show that a sense of normalcy prevails over the country. Attracting tourists to the country has been a priority for both actors, and the regime has facilitated the entrance of travel bloggers to showcase Syria to the outside world.

In 2015, Mikhail Piotrovsky, the director of the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, said that Palmyra is a part of Russian heritage as well.

"For us, Palmyra is a great image - a parallel to St. Petersburg for beauty. Many Russians have their children baptised in Syrian monasteries," he said.

Russia intervened in the war in 2015 to bolster Bashar Al-Assad's regime after a series of defeats to rebels.

Since then, thousands of civilians have been killed in Russian airstrikes, which human rights groups have targeted hospitals and schools.

Russia and the Syrian regime were criticised for focusing their attention on offensives on rebel towns, with Palymra largely unguarded leading to IS capturing the city twice, the final time in 2016.