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Images of the Ancient City of Palmyra, the "Pearl of the Desert" ISIS is Destroying

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The Monumental Arch at Palmyra, Syria; Creative Commons image by <a href="
The Monumental Arch at Palmyra, Syria; Creative Commons image by

Archeologists and researchers have called it an "irreversible loss," and Maamoun Abdulkarim, Syria's director general of antiquities, has told The New York Times that he's the "saddest director general in the world." The ongoing destruction of Palmyra, an ancient Syrian city and UNESCO World Heritage site, by ISIS has unfortunately reached a new low, with reports over the weekend suggesting the Islamic state destroyed the Temple of Baalshamin, a nearly 2,000-year-old structure built in 17 AD in dedication to the Phoenician sky god. Coming just days after the militant group executed the city's antiquities chief (who, despite being tortured, resisted revealing the location of priceless artifacts to his captors), the destruction advances the group's campaign against what it sees as "idolatrous" buildings and symbols. Sites across northern Iraq and Syria have been wrecked, with antiquities stripped and sold on the black market. It's a tragic state of affairs considering the incredible history and architecture currently on display in the ancient city.

Located roughly 150 miles northeast of Damascus, Palmyra can lay claim to being one of the most important crossroads of antiquity, a cultural melting pot, key Roman settlement and the empire's gateway to Persian, Indian and Chinese civilizations. At its height, the city boasted a 3,600-foot-long colonnaded street, a series of temples, an agora and a theatre. It now stands as one of the most well-preserved examples of Roman architecture anywhere in the world, but ISIS occupation threatens to erase this important part of our collective cultural history. The Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, isn't mincing words; she's called the ongoing destruction "a new war crime and an immense loss for the Syrian people and for humanity."

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