Satellite images reveal war damage on Syrian cultural sites

Satellite images reveal war damage on Syrian cultural sites

A UN agency report uses satellite imagery to look at war-caused damage on 290 cultural sites in Syria.

Damage on Syrian cultural sites
Belongings of Syrian rebels inside a chapel at Crac des Chevaliers in Syria. (Source: AP)

According to a report released by the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), satellite imagery shows that at least 290 cultural heritage sites in Syria have been damaged by the country’s civil war.

Analysing 18 different cultural areas using commercially available satellite imagery, UNITAR determined that 24 sites were totally destroyed. Another 104 sites were severely damaged, 85 moderately damaged and 77 possibly damaged, the report said, providing one of the most substantial looks yet at the scope of the problem.

“The evidence provides alarming testimony of the ongoing damage that is happening to Syria’s vast cultural heritage,” reported UNITAR. “National and international efforts for the protection of these areas need to be scaled up in order to save as much as possible of this important heritage to humankind.”

The report offers before and after photographs from several sites that indicate the scale of the loss. According to it, UNESCO World Heritage sites in Aleppo, Damascus, Palmyra and the Crac des Chevaliers have all sustained major damage.


Sites across the country have been exposed to different threats. In some places, shelling and other military activity are responsible for the destruction, while in other places illegal excavations and civilian construction are to blame.

Damage on Syrian cultural sites
Minaret of a famed 12th century Umayyad mosque before it was destroyed by the shelling, in the northern city of Aleppo, Syria. (Source: AP)

Photos of Aleppo show gray craters and mounds of rubble around the city’s famed citadel where historic buildings, including the Carlton hotel, used to be. Heavy damage is also evident to the Umayyad Mosque, which has lost its 11th-century minaret.

War-damage in Syria
Burned cars and damaged buildings after Syrian government forces airstrikes a popular market near a museum and an industrial neighborhood in Raqqa city, North Syria. (Source: AP)

It has long been known that Syria’s archaeological sites have been looted and its historic buildings damaged since the country’s conflict began in March 2011. Images from the ancient city of Dura-Europos and Palmyra show, with the ground peppered with holes from unauthorized digging.

Syria is home to archaeological treasures that span thousands of years of written history, from the Roman ruins in the desert oasis of Palmyra to the towering Crusader castle known as the Crac des Chevaliers near the Mediterranean coast. The nation’s capital, Damascus, is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world.