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Culture

Palmyra’s Arch of Triumph rises from the ashes in London

© AFP | Palmyra's Arch of Triumph before it was destroyed (left) and the replica of the iconic monument during its installation in London (right)

Text by Louise NORDSTROM

Latest update : 2016-04-19

A replica of Palmyra’s 2,000-year-old Arch of Triumph, destroyed by the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria last year, was unveiled in London Tuesday after archaeologists reproduced a facsimile of the iconic monument with the help of a 3D printer.

Standing 5.5 metres tall in the British capital’s Trafalgar Square, the Egyptian marble reproduction was recreated by Oxford’s Institute for Digital Archaeology (IDA), whose conservationists used photographs of the monument, 3D printers and computer-guided stone cutters to make a near-identical copy of the original.

“Culture isn’t just about physical objects, but it’s about the relationship we have with them,” Alexy Karenowska, IDA’s director of technology, told FRANCE 24 of the symbolic importance of recreating the monument.

“It’s an international imperative to think about how we can preserve cultural heritage and its meaning.”

The original arch, built by the Romans around 200 AD and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, was blown up by IS group militants in October as part of their attempt to destroy pre-Islamic monuments and artefacts which they consider idolatrous.

Volunteers with cameras

The Islamist militants overran Palmyra in May 2015, raising fears that they would demolish the 2,000-year-old Roman-era city, home to many of the region’s most important archaeological sites.

Prior to the arch attack, the IDA – in collaboration with UNESCO, Oxford University and the government of the United Arab Emirates – equipped volunteers in the area with 3D cameras as part of the Million Image Database project, which works to document threatened cultural objects in wartorn regions like Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. In Palmyra, the volunteers managed to capture some of the ancient structures before they were destroyed.

© Joseph Eid, AFP | A photographer holds a picture of Palmyra’s Arc of Triumph in front of what is left of the historic monument

Aside from the arch, of which only two columns remain, the IS group also razed the Temple of Bel and about a dozen towers that served as ancient tombs before the Syrian army recaptured the city with the help of Russian air support in March.

Maamoun Abdulkarim, Syria's director of antiquities, travelled to London to witness the replica’s installation.

"The life of the Syrian people rests on their cultural identity, and Palmyra represents one of the most unique and exceptional cultural heritage sites – not just in Syria but the whole world," he told AFP.

"We know that the plans to restore Palmyra to its former glory are grand, but they can be realised if the task is treated as a global mission," he said.

Hopes for return to Palmyra

"No one should consider for one second giving terrorists the power to delete such objects from our collective cultural record," said Roger Michel, IDA’s founder and director.

The 3D-printed arch, which cost about €125,000 and whose installation comes during World Heritage Week, will remain on display in London until Thursday, after which it will travel to Dubai and New York.

But the IDA hopes to return it to Palmyra next year and put it on permanent display near its original site.

Prior to the Syrian civil war, the ancient city of Palmyra – known as the “Pearl of the Desert” and located some 200 kilometres northeast of Damascus – attracted around 150,000 tourists a year.

© Leon Neal, AFP | A replica of Palmyra's Arch of Triumph is erected in Trafalgar Square, central London

Date created : 2016-04-19

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    Islamic State group blow up 2,000-year-old Arch of Triumph in Syria's Palmyra

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