Palmyra arch to be replicated in London and New York

Copies of structure that survived Islamic State to be erecrted in ‘gesture of defiance’

The replicas of the Temple of Bel’s entrance arch will be built to coincide with world heritage week in April. Photograph: Reuters

The replicas of the Temple of Bel’s entrance arch will be built to coincide with world heritage week in April. Photograph: Reuters


Replicas of an ancient monument in Palmyra that has apparently survived attempts by Islamic State to demolish it are to be erected in London and New York.

The 15-metre-high arch is one of the few remaining parts of the 2,000-year-old Temple of Bel in the Syrian city. It was almost completely razed by Isis fighters as they systematically destroyed Palmyra over the past year.

The construction of a replica will be the centrepiece of a series of events around World Heritage Week, planned for April, with a theme of replication and reconstruction. It has also been characterised as a gesture of defiance against attempts by religious extremists to erase the pre-Islamic history of the Middle East.

Founded in AD32, the Temple of Bel was consecrated to the ancient Mesopotamian god Bel and formed the centre of religious life in Palmyra. In keeping with many ancient temples, the site was converted into a Christian church during the Byzantine era, then subsequently into a mosque when Arabs brought Islam to the area.

Known as the Pearl of the Desert, Palmyra – which means city of Palms – lies 210km north-east of Damascus. Before the Syrian conflict erupted in 2011, more than 150,000 tourists visited the city every year.

The Temple of Bel was considered among the best preserved ruins at Palmyra, until confirmation of the destruction in August. Earlier that month, the group beheaded Khaled al-Asaad, the 82-year-old Syrian archaeologist who had looked after Palmyra’s ruins for four decades, and hung his body in public.

Building a copy of the temple’s entrance arch has been proposed by the Institute for Digital Archaeology, a joint venture between Harvard University, the University of Oxford and Dubai’s Museum of the Future that promotes the use of digital imaging and 3D printing in archaeology and conservation.

In collaboration with Unesco, the institute earlier this year began distributing 3D cameras to volunteer photographers to capture images of threatened objects in conflict zones throughout the Middle East and north Africa.

The images are to be uploaded to a “million image database” that, it is hoped, can be used for research, heritage appreciation, educational programmes and eventually 3D replication – including full-scale rebuilding.

The destruction of the Temple of Bel came too soon for the site to be included on the IDA’s database, but researchers have been able to create 3D approximations of the damaged site through thousands of two-dimensional photographs.

Alexy Karenowska, the IDA’s director of technology, said the renderings would be used to recreate the arch through a combination of 3D printing computer-controlled machining techniques. The pieces will be made off-site then assembled in place in Trafalgar Square and Times Square.

Ms Karenowska said it was hoped that the scheme would help to highlight the international importance of cultural heritage.

While the Temple of Bel is an architectural treasure of the Middle East, its influence on architecture had a major impact on the classical styles spread throughout Europe by the Roman Empire, which once extended to the banks of the Euphrates, she said.

Guardian service