Another Ancient Temple in Palmyra Is Destroyed

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

With that tweet, the U.N. agency confirmed that ISIS had destroyed the historic Temple of Bel in Palmyra.

The news comes a week after it emerged that the militant group—which controls large parts of Iraq and Syria—destroyed the Temple of Baalshamin—another ancient treasure in the historic city.  The temple to the Mesopotamian god Bel dated back to 32 A.D., and was one of the most important—and best preserved—sites in Palmyra, a UNESCO world heritage site. Here’s what it looked like before it was destroyed:


The image on which the U.N. satellite-analysis agency, UNOSAT, based its assessment was taken Monday, a day after ISIS set off explosives near the temple. The extent of damage was previously unclear, but the satellite image—compared to one taken previously--showed that both the main building and the columns near it were destroyed.

ISIS and other Muslim extremist groups have, as Matt Schiavenza noted, long had a contentious relationship with cultural artifacts, particularly those that predate the rise of Islam in the 7th century A.D. Just last month, ISIS destroyed the Temple of Baalshamin, and it executed Khaled Asaad, an 82-year-old Syrian expert on Palmyra who refused to divulge the location of artifacts coveted by the militant group. Asaad had run Palmyra’s antiquities department for 50 years.