GHF Preservation Fellow Documents Syria's Endangered Cultural Heritage Sites

Many of its most historic and celebrated sites are at risk

Published on 13 February 2013

Author(s): Global Heritage Fund/ Heritage on the Wire

Type:  Report Originally published 11 Sept 2011

With a history of civilization that dates back as far as virtually any place on earth, Syria is one of the world’s richest countries in terms of cultural heritage. Sadly, many of its most historic and celebrated sites are at risk due to both natural and man-made factors, leaving the future of Syria’s cultural heritage in a constant—and increasing—state of jeopardy.

Emma Cunliffe, a 2010 Global Heritage Preservation Fellow, has documented the plight of Syria’s cultural heritage in an excellent new report titled “Syria: Past, Present and Preservation.” The 20-page report is available for download via the GHN Community and features a comprehensive look at the threats and conservation work being done at 12 endangered sites. Her report includes links to each site’s GHN profile, as well as a number of valuable maps and images.

A modern orchard encroaches on Serjilla, one of the best preserved of the Dead Cities in northwestern Syria. Photo Emma Cunliffe.jpg
A modern orchard encroaches on Serjilla, one of the best preserved of the “Dead Cities” in northwestern Syria. Photo: Emma Cunliffe


Bulldozing continues to extend fields in Carchemish, threatening the ancient city walls. Photo Fragile Crescent Project, Durham University.jpg
Bulldozing continues to extend fields in Carchemish, threatening the ancient city walls. Photo: Fragile Crescent Project, Durham University


First among these sites is Carchemish, an important Mitanni, Hittite and Neo-Assyrian city that lies in a no-man’s land along the border of Syria and Turkey. On the Syrian side, the settlement’s ancient features have been damaged by the expansion of the nearby town of Jerablus, whose development has destroyed structures within Carchemish’s ancient city walls. Those elements not buried beneath the modern urban fabric are additionally threatened by an increasing agricultural area that has caused city walls to be bulldozed to make way for fields and orchards.

Also included in the report are four UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the Dead or Forgotten Cities of Syria, the castles of Crak des Chevaliers and Qal’at Salah El-Din, Bosra, and Palmyra. These historic sites include some of the best-preserved villages and buildings in Syria, but they are considered at risk due to factors like development pressures, insufficient management, inappropriate restoration, vandalism, and erosion by both humans and nature.

Previously excavated structures at Mari (Tell Hariri). Once exposed to weather, these features quickly degrade and erode. Photo Emma Cunliffe.jpg
Previously excavated structures at Mari (Tell Hariri). Once exposed to weather, these features quickly degrade and erode. Photo: Emma Cunliffe


Mari (Tell Hariri) is the only site in the report classified by GHN as “Rescue Needed” (Red). An ancient Sumerian and Amorite city on the western bank of the Euphrates, it is thought to have been inhabited since the 5th millennium BC. Efforts have been made to cover parts of the site and transport finds to museums, but due to its size, protecting all of it has been deemed unfeasible. Therefore, the city’s uncovered mudbrick walls are eroding, and large parts of the extensively-excavated site are today unrecognizable.

The other sites documented in Cunliffe’s report include Apamea, the Norias of Hama, and Raqqa and al-Rafiqa—all of which sit on the UNESCO Tentative list—as well as Dura Europos, Ebla (Tell Mardikh), and Masyaf Castle.

View from the citadel roof of Syrias Masyaf Castle. Photo Emma Cunliffe.jpg
View from the citadel roof of Syria’s Masyaf Castle. Photo: Emma Cunliffe


Cunliffe, a Ph.D. researcher at Durham University, has an ongoing research interest in Syria and has recently analyzed the effectiveness of remote sensing for site management. By ground-truthing satellite images of archaeological sites in Syria, Cunliffe assessed opportunities for remote sensing in identifying and monitoring threats to archaeology. She has presented her findings at the Broadening Horizons Conference in Barcelona, sharing with other researchers techniques that are becoming increasingly important for archaeological site management.

Cunliffe was one of 10 applicants chosen in 2010 as part of the inaugural Global Heritage Preservation Fellowship program. The program supports projects in the disciplines of archaeological conservation, historic preservation, heritage management, conservation science, site management planning, GIS and mapping, and sustainable tourism and community development. Grants of approximately $2,000 are awarded annually to 10-20 applicants whose proposals demonstrate the greatest potential for long-term conservation and community benefits.

This year’s GHF Preservation Fellows include 16 up-and-coming conservators who will work in nine countries across the developing world.

Click here to read “Syria: Past, Present and Preservation” by Emma Cunliffe

(Source: http://globalheritagefund.org/onthewire/blog/syrias_endangered_sites)

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