London mayor Boris Johnson wants British archaeologists to help rebuild the Unesco heritage site of Palmyra, which suffered much damage at the hands of the Islamic State (Isis). Troops led by Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president and army chief, recaptured the Syrian city on 23 March.
Expressing delight at the ouster of Daesh, which destroyed many heritage sites in Palmyra, Johnson termed Assad's success "a victory for archaeology, a victory for all those who care about the ancient monuments of one of the most amazing cultural sites on Earth".
In his latest column in the Daily Telegraph, Johnson expressed the hope that the UK government would send its archaeological experts to Syria to help in the reconstruction of heritage sites. "We have some of the greatest archaeological experts in the world. I hope that the Government will fund them to go to Syria and help the work of restoration. It is far cheaper than bombing, and more likely to lead to long-term tourism and economic prosperity. One day Syria's future will be glorious, but that will partly depend on the world's ability to enjoy its glorious past. British experts should be at the forefront of the project."
"We have some of the greatest archaeological experts in the world. I hope that the Government will fund them to go to Syria and help the work of restoration. It is far cheaper than bombing, and more likely to lead to long-term tourism and economic prosperity. One day Syria's future will be glorious, but that will partly depend on the world's ability to enjoy its glorious past. British experts should be at the forefront of the project," he wrote.
Although Assad is a brutal leader who has killed his own people and tortured his opponents, the Isis is "far, far worse". He called Isis militants "monsters" and described their year-long regime in Palmyra as "a moral and cultural catastrophe".
Johnson wrote: "They were so small, so narrow, so stunted in their understanding of the will of God that they regarded any pre-Islamic building or structure – no matter how beautiful – as being somehow a blasphemy. They have mined, bombed and demolished some of the most sublime buildings in the world."
After capturing Palmyra in May 2015, Isis said it had no intentions of damaging the city's world heritage site, but warned that it would demolish any statues it deemed "polytheistic". The terrorist group then went on a rampage, destroying the ancient Lion of Al-lāt statue in Palmyra and several other heritage structures. It also destroyed the first century Temple of Baalshamin, the Temple of Bel, seven ancient tower tombs, the second century AD Tower of Elahbel, the ancient tombs of Lamliku and Atenaten, and the Arch of Triumph.
Johnson announced in his article that a resin replica of the 15-metre gateway of the Temple of Bel will be erected in London's Trafalgar Square on 19 April as a mark of solidarity with Palmyra. The project is led by the Institute of Digital Archaeology and includes Harvard and Oxford universities, and Dubai's Museum of the Future.
Lauding Russian President Vladimir Putin's efforts in driving out the terrorists from Palmyra, Johnson said it was time the West played its role in setting things right in Syria.
"If Putin's troops have helped winkle the maniacs from Palmyra, then (it pains me to admit) that is very much to the credit of the Russians. They have made the West look ineffective; and so now is the time for us to make amends, and to play to our strengths."
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