Incident Report Feature: al-Sa´a “Clock” Church

New video footage shows damage to the al-Sa´a “Clock” Church, a mid-19th century Roman Catholic church in the Old City of Mosul.

Mosul's Clock Church pictured in the 1920s (Lebrecht Photo Library/Telegraph)

Our Lady of the Hour Roman Catholic Church, popularly known as al-Sa´a (“Clock”) Church or Latin Church, was constructed by Dominican friars 1862–1873 CE. [1] In 1882, the Empress Eugenie, wife of Napolean III, donated the famous Clock Tower in recognition of the Dominican monks’ service to the people of Mosul during a typhoid epidemic in the 1870s. The neighborhood surrounding the church subsequently became known as al-Sa’a.

The church building consists of two wings of equal size, each with a large dome, and a large central courtyard. Inside, the church contains a large organ opposite the altar, as well as stained glass windows and fine marble. The clock tower stands at 27 meters high and is visible throughout the Old City of Mosul. It is adorned with four clock faces. The original clocks were maintained by hand until the 1980s, when they were replaced by mechanized versions.

In 2006, an explosion outside the church destroyed windows and three sets of doors. In 2008, another explosion damaged the church's front gates and clock tower. No party took responsibility for either explosions.

The church and clock tower have been reported destroyed on at least three occasions. In September 2015, a Niqash article reported that ISIS militants had demolished the clock tower in February of that year.

In April 2016 rumors surfaced that ISIS militants had blown up the church. Many media outlets, including Le Figaro and The Telegraph, picked up on the story and reported it as fact despite lack of substantial evidence. In October 2016, Bellingcat, a network of investigators using open source evidence and social media, published an article that determined this report of destruction to be false.

Video still showing damage to facade and clock tower of the Clock Church, seen from west (Al-Mosuliya; June 29, 2017)

Photograph of graffiti indicating church has been checked for explosives (Stars and Stripes; July 22, 2017)

On November 4, 2016, it was reported that ISIS militants had begun demolishing the Clock Church using “demolition machines” and “hydraulic hammers.” DigitalGlobe satellite imagery corroborated this report. Damage to the church is first seen in an image from November 4, 2016, but the damage was isolated to the southern portion of the church building. The clock tower appeared undamaged.

Video still of damage to western exterior wall of Clock Church (Al-Aan Arabic Television; August 14, 2017)

Video still of damage to interior courtyard of Clock Church (Al-Aan Arabic Television; August 14, 2017)

On June 29, 2017 al-Mosuliya released a video showing extensive damage to the Clock Church. The facing is missing from much of the building and evidence of military activity such as explosions and gunfire/shrapnel is apparent.

Stars and Stripes later posted new photographs of the interior of the church, which show damage and evidence of of ISIS occupation of the site, including bulletproof vests. According to Iraqi Sgt. Bassam Nadhim Ibrahim, the church was used as a base by ISIS for a unit known as the “Devil’s Battalion.” Graffiti on a wall suggests the area had to be cleared of explosive devices by Iraqi forces.


Photograph showing severe damage to interior courtyard of Clock Church and clock tower, with at least one clock face now missing (Stars and Stripes; July 22, 2017)

Video still of a child’s shoe found in the basement of the church (Al-Aan Arabic Television; August 14, 2017)

In August 2017, al-Aan Arabic Television and al-Mosuliya published footage of the Clock Church. An ISIS militant captured by Iraqi forces and interviewed by al-Aan states that the basement of the church had been used as a headquarters and training camp for newly enrolled ISIS members. Signs on the walls of the basement state the church was the location of the “Saad al-Ansari Camp,” with inscriptions dating back to 2015. Based on items found amongst  the debris in the basement, children and/or women had been held in the church at an undetermined time. 

For the full Incident Report see ASOR CHI August 2017 Monthly Report.


[1] Dabrowska, K. & Geoff, H. (2008) Iraq: Then and Now. Bradt Travel Guides. 164.

Incident Report Feature: al-Qadim Mosque

DigitalGlobe satellite imagery details the level of damage to al-Qadim Mosque, an Abbasid-era site in the Old City of Raqqa.

Undated photograph of al-Qadim Mosque, seen from the west, prior to damage (ESyria; September 20, 2014)

Abbasid Caliph al-Mansur built al-Qadim Mosque in 772 CE [1]. In 1166 CE, during the reign of Zengid Emir Nur ad-Din, the mosque underwent extensive renovations as development in the city flourished [2]. In 1265, Raqqa was sacked by the il-Khanids, a Mongol dynasty that ruled Iran from 1256 to 1335, and the mosque was destroyed.

The original mosque structure originally consisted of a rectilinear structure with rounded towers on all four sides [4]. A single large courtyard lay inside. Multiple arched colonnades flanked the courtyard on all four sides. The mosque’s minaret stood in the northeastern corner of the courtyard and a cistern was located in the northwestern corner [5].

Much of the mosque’s original structure has disappeared in the centuries since its destruction. However, the exterior wall of the mosque, the minaret, the cistern, and the northernmost colonnade on the southern side of the courtyard remain largely intact.

Between 1983 and 1987, the Syrian Directorate-General of Antiquities and Museums (DGAM) conducted restoration activities of the site [6].

Al-Qadim mosque with surrounding damage shown by red arrows (DigitalGlobe NextView License; August 13, 2017)

Damage to southeastern part of barrier wall around al-Qadim mosque indicated by red arrows (DigitalGlobe NextView License; August 25, 2017)

The first damage to al-Qadim Mosque occurred under ISIS-control of the city. DigitalGlobe satellite imagery illustrated that between October 2013 and February 2014, a small Ottoman-period shrine at the center of the mosque complex was destroyed and the debris cleared away. The shrine, built in 1836 CE, was built over the purported grave of Wabisa ibn Ma’bad al-Asadi, a companion of the prophet Muhammad. The destruction of the shrine was part of a larger ISIS campaign carried out by ISIS militants targeting Shia, Christian, and Sufi sites in the city of Raqqa.


Undated photograph showing ISIS militants bulldozing shrine on ground of al-Qadim Mosque (Al-Gherbal; June 20, 2015)

In June 2017, at the start of operations by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the local activist group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently (RBSS) and the Raqqa Media Office reported that shelling had struck the mosque and the surrounding areas, resulting in casualties.

As the clashes around the Old City of Raqqa continued, RBSS reported that local residents, unable to safely reach local cemeteries, had begun using the courtyard adjacent to al-Qadim Mosque to bury those killed in the ongoing clashes and aerial bombardment. DigitalGlobe satellite imagery shows that burials in the courtyard occurred as early as 2014, but increased in frequency between May 30 and June 24, 2017. A satellite image captured on May 30 shows a group of mourners gathered at a recent burial.

al-Qadim Mosque with some earlier modern burials in the courtyard (DigitalGlobe; February 3, 2017)

New burials highlighted with a red box. The one on the left appears to be a group of people, possibly gathered for a burial (DigitalGlobe; May 30, 2017)

Video footage published in August 2017 shows additional damage to al-Qadim Mosque as a result of heavy fighting and airstrikes in the Old City of Raqqa. Additionally, the site has suffered from exposure to the elements and lack of maintenance.

Video still of the mosque, seen from the southwest, with damage to entranceway and walls circled in red by ASOR CHI (Private Twitter Account; August 21, 2017)

Devastation in neighborhood surrounding al-Qadim Mosque, seen from the southwest (RBSS; August 19, 2017)

On September 4, 2017, the SDF captured the al-Qadim Mosque. On September 11, 2017, a photograph published online shows significant damage to several standing architectural elements.

Photograph of al-Qadim Mosque, seen from southeast, with damage circled in red by ASOR CHI (Private Twitter Account; September 11, 2017)

For the full Incident Report see ASOR CHI August 2017 Monthly Report.


[1] Hagen, N., M. al-Hassoun, and M. Meinecke (2004) “Die grosse Moschee von ar-Rāfiqa,” in Baudenkmäler und Paläste I, ed. Verena Daiber and Andrea Becker. Raqqa III. Mainz am Rhein: Verlag Philipp von Zabern, 37.

[2] Jenkins-Medina, M. (2006) Raqqa Revisited: Ceramics of Ayyubid Syria. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 6-7.

[3] ibid.

[4] Hagen et al. (2004) 26.


[6] ibid.

[7]  Heidemann, S. (2003) “Die Geschichte von ar-Raqqa/ar-Rāfiqa – ein Überblick,” in Die islamische Stadt, ed. S. Heidemann & A. Becker. Raqqa II. Mainz am Rhein: Verlag Philipp von Zabern, 55.

UPDATE: ASOR Undertakes Humanitarian Heritage Work in Idlib Governorate


ASOR Undertakes Humanitarian Heritage Work in Idlib Governorate 

Restoration Efforts at Al Ma'ra Museum—$5,000 in Matching Funds Sought


Northwestern Syria’s Idlib Governorate has been particularly hard-hit over the last six years of civil war, and the region and its people are in dire need of humanitarian assistance. A recent cessation of hostilities in Idlib has largely reduced aerial bombardment over the area and local residents have begun clean-up and repair efforts throughout the northern governorate, home to some of country’s premiere cultural sites such as the renowned “Dead Cities” region and historic mosques, caravansarays, churches, and medieval castles. Basic humanitarian assistance in the form of food, housing, and medical supplies is critical, but humanitarian assistance in the form of cultural heritage support is also needed as part of collective relief efforts. Such cultural aid not only demonstrates the concern and compassion of the international community towards the Syrian people and their collective cultural identity, but also provides crucial jobs and income to the civilian population.

The Project

The Al Ma'ara Museum (aka Murad Pasha Caravansary), located in the town of Maaret al-Numan, represents one of the premiere cultural sites in the region. The Museum comprises four sections with cross-beamed ceilings connected by arched hallways to service facilities. A mosque and a restaurant are found in the center, and a marketplace, a bathhouse, a bakery, grain storage area, and a water station that supplies the whole facility are occupy the west side. The caravansary (built 1565 CE) was converted into a museum to preserve and display the historically significant collections of mosaics from the nearby Dead Cities, a landscape of famous Roman and Byzantine standing architecture.

The museum sustained heavy damage after being targeted with airstrikes in June 2015 and May 2016. The heaviest damage was in the bathhouse area of the caravansary and in the ‘fourth wing’ on the west side of the site. Site monitors from the Heritage Preservation Center, in conjunction with The Day After - Heritage Protection Initiative (TDA-HPI), conducted a physical assessment of the site and documented structural damage. Site monitors noted that the right/east wall of the hallway leading to the lavatories (modern era) had deviated by 32 cm. They also noted severe damage due to weather erosion and heavy snowfall. As a result of the site visit, the Heritage Preservation Center and TDA-HPI recommended immediate repairs to prevent further damage.

The reconstruction of a wall at Al Ma'ara Museum


The reconstruction of a wall at Al Ma'ara Museum 

Damage to the Al Ma'ara Museum

The Al Ma'ara Museum has been repeatedly damaged during the conflict. On June 16, 2015 ASOR CHI sources reported that a Syrian regime helicopter dropped a barrel bomb onto the museum on the evening of June 15, 2015, causing massive destruction. The damage included collapsed domes, ceilings, and walls. On May 9, 2016 ASOR CHI sources reported that Syrian regime airstrikes had struck the museum for a second time, causing severe damage, particularly in the bathhouse area. Mosaics, previously covered by sandbags in previous preservation efforts, were covered in rubble. The exterior of the northwestern wall, which separated the market area from the bathhouse, collapsed into the narrow corridor.

Wall before deviation damage

Wall after deviation

Wall Reconstruction

Beginning on June 20, 2017 the Day After Heritage Protection Initiative (TDA-HPI), in partnership with the Syrian Heritage Center (SHP), began a mitigation project to repair the deviated wall. The wall was dismantled and reconstructed in order to protect the building from collapse. The project lasted 11 weeks, ending on August 27, 2017.



Numbering stones in sequence

Taking Measurements of the Wall Deviation

Following the initial deviation of the east wall, it was temporarily reinforced with two installments of crafted wood beams to stop further damage. Swedish whitewood was used in the creation of the beams because it does not absorb moisture, expand, or contract with changing weather conditions.

Additional reinforcement

Additional reinforcement

This was done in the following steps: Following the temporary reinforcement of the wall, the stones in the wall were numbered in sequence for later dismantling. Skilled workers then began the painstaking effort of carefully dismantling the wall in sequence in order to preserve the original order of the stones.

Dismantling the damaged wall segment

Dismantling the damaged wall segment

Sorting stones according to their numbers

Photos of the wall reconstruction

With extensive documentation of the wall, including topographic maps, photographs and sketches, workers began reconstructing the wall in the same manner as it was originally built. The bricks were relayed with mortar and the wall has now been secured.

Replacing stones in the correct order according to the allocated numbers

Replacing stones in the correct order according to the allocated numbers

*All photographs courtesy of TDA-HPI

ASOR in partnership with TDA-HPI is currently raising funds for emergency mitigation efforts to occur at the Khan As'ad Pacha (ca. 1753), a museum complex located near the Al Ma'ara Museum. Ongoing aerial bombardment over the course of the Syrian conflict has heavily damaged the the site. TDA-HPI plans to develop an emergency intervention study to assess the damage. Using that study, and similar methodology featured in rehabilitation efforts at Al Ma'ara Museum, TDA-HPI hopes to restore the Khan As'ad Pacha. You can help support these efforts by clicking on the 'Donate Here' button seen below. Your generous contribution will help to restore this historic site for future generations of Syrians.


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Damage to Khan As’ad Pasha

UPDATE: Ninawa Governorate

Smoke rises above Tel Afar during operations to recapture the city from ISIS (Al Jazeera; August 24, 2017)

By Kyra Kaercher, Susan Penacho, Jamie O'Connell, and Allison Cuneo

On August 31, 2017, Haider al-Abadi announced that Iraqi forces liberated Tal Afar, the  last stronghold of ISIS in Ninawa Governorate. Tal Afar has been inhabited since approximately 7000 BCE, and was an integral part of the Assyrian Empire from 2500–600 BCE.  During the Ottoman period, Tal Afar was a Turkish outpost created to control the Yazidi populations and as such the city was historically Kurdish and Turkmen (Fuccaro 1999). During Saddam Hussein’s Arabization campaign throughout the 1970’s and 80’s, Sunni Arabs were relocated to Ninawa Governorate. Subsequently Kurdish populations were moved into towns north of Tal Afar. Sunni Arabs are now currently located in towns to the south, and Yazidi majority towns are located to the west. In 2014, Tal Afar remained a majority Iraqi Turkmen city, 75% of which were Sunni Muslim with the remainder identifying as Shia.

Tal Afar is strategically located on the road between Mosul and Sinjar. Tal Afar’s Sunni and Shia populations lived in relative peace, but sectarian violence erupted between the two groups following 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq. Like Mosul, Tal Afar is a Sunni majority city in a largely Shia-majority country, and the collapse of the secular central government and the establishment of the resulting Shia-dominated government stoked simmering sectarian tensions to a breaking point. Following the capture of the region, ISIS exploited these ethno-sectarian tensions to recruit Sunni Arabs to the organization’s cause. Tal Afar fell to ISIS following a two-day battle ending June 16, 2014, and soon after Human Rights Watch reported ISIS destroyed nine Shia places of worship June 25 and July 2, 2014. “This province [Ninawa Governorate] was also the engine of the ISIL economy. It is where they used to smuggle oil to other areas. It is also where they used to generate big revenues in terms of taxes,” states al Jazeera reporter Osama Bin Javaid.

Cultural Heritage Destruction

ASOR CHI reported 13 mosques and shrines damaged in June 2014 as a result of intentional destruction by ISIS. Many of these incidents were documented and publicized in photographs and video footage released by ISIS and the pattern of destruction demonstrates that these sites were target for ideological reasons; twelve of these places of worship were identified as Shiite and one is undetermined. ISIS ideology labels Shiites as heretics, and the veneration of saints apostasy. As a result, Shia places of worship, particularly tombs and shrines, are often targeted for vandalism and destruction.

The Shia Mosque of Sheikh Jawad al-Sadiq in Tal Afar was intentionally destroyed by ISIS on June 26, 2014. It was reportedly rigged with explosives and destroyed. With the liberation of Tal Afar, new video footage was posted showing the rubble of the detonated minaret. Unlike in Mosul, the ruin was not cleared and the land was left undeveloped.

The intentional destruction of the Mosque of Sheikh Jawad al-Sadiq (AP; June 26, 2014)

Minaret of the Mosque of Sheikh Jawad al-Sadiq lying among the ruins of the mosque (al-Mosuliya; August 30, 2017)

The Khider al-Elias Shrine was a multi-faith holy site for members of the Shia, Christian and Yezidi faith. Human Rights Watch reported ISIS carried out an intentional destruction of the shrine on June 25, 2014, later corroborated by DigitalGlobe Satellite imagery. Shrines like Khider al-Elias, with multiple religious populations using the structure are extremely vulnerable to acts of intentional destruction carried out by ISIS.

Khider al-Elias Shrine before its destruction (DigitalGlobe NextView License; January 8, 2014)

The complete destruction of the shrine. (DigitalGlobe NextView License; July 4, 2014)

In Tal Afar, historical places were targeted by ISIS alongside religious heritage. The Tal Afar Citadel, built upon a 11,000 year old pre-Islamic tell and a possible Assyrian fortress, is an Ottoman castle occupied between approximately 1500–1900 CE. Previously the citadel was used as the headquarters of the municipal council and local police after the 2003 US-led invasion. After the capture by ISIS, the citadel was repurposed as Sharia court and prison. The citadel was used as a prison for women, mainly Yazidi and Christian women waiting to be sold to ISIS militants; following its capture from ISIS, Iraqi forces found chains and other restraints used on prisoners. The historical structure itself was also intentionally damaged. On December 31, 2014 ISIS militants detonated bombs planted in the northern and western citadel, and it was reported that ISIS had tunneled into the mound to gather antiquities.

Iraqi forces stand atop the Citadel (France 24; August 28, 2017)

Damage to Tal Afar Citadel (Ahmad al-Rubaye/Getty Images; August 27, 2017)

The citadel before its destruction (DigitalGlobe NextView License; November 19, 2014)

The current state of the citadel with buildings and the fortification wall destroyed (DigitalGlobe NextView License; August 11, 2017)


After a month long intensive battle Haider al-Abadi declared victory over Tal Afar and the neighboring city of al-’Ayadiya. The humanitarian toll of ISIS on this region is enormous. Tal Afar had an estimated 200,000 residents before ISIS’s invasion in 2014, but the Iraqi army estimates only 50,000 to 10,000 civilians stayed behind when operations started mid August. ISIS was especially brutal toward Tal Afar’s ethnic Shia Turkmen population during its three year occupation of the area, who suffered kidnapping and executions. Human Rights Watch reports that 90 percent of Tal Afar’s 125,000 person Turkmen population fled north into the Kurdistan Region of Iraq and Turkey. Because of its strong Turkmen population, Turkey has pledged support for the reconstruction of the city.

Like the Mosul operation, Tal Afar was liberated by a mixed group of Shia and Sunni Iraqi Security Forces and Shia Popular Mobilization Units (PMU). Kurdish Peshmerga Forces control the area to the north of Tal Afar but were not present in the fight to recapture the area. The sectarian affiliation of some of these armed groups has led to concern among the majority Sunni population of the city that sectarian retributory constitutes a major risk. For example, Shia militia members were accused of conducting sectarian revenge killings and attacking Sunni religious sites, homes, and businesses following the capture of Tikrit and Fallujah. In light of this, Turkey’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs asserted that it was necessary to bring ISIS to justice and return control of Tal Afar to its residents and “legitimate Iraqi Forces instead of Militia groups acting in their own agenda.” Given that the PMU’s are an official branch of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) under the auspices of Baghdad, concern runs high as to the level of impunity these forces may enjoy.

With the defeat of ISIS and the return of Iraqi governance, suicide bombings are on the rise. It is predicted that low-level insurgency, prominent in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003, is returning once again to the region now the ISIS has been defeated. As the spokesperson from Operation Inherent Resolve summarized, “While the city and critical infrastructure are under ISF control, dangerous work remains to completely remove explosive devices, identify ISIS fighters in hiding and eliminate any remaining ISIS holdouts so they do not threaten the security of Tal Afar in the future.” Dlawer Ala-Aldeen states, “When you get rid of the last stronghold you pave the way for reconstruction, reconciliation and all the process of recovery, as well as people getting to their houses… but actually that is it, because the next is the biggest challenge: providing security and services and dealing with the many armed groups.” Although the recapture of Tal Afar was another victory in the defeat against ISIS, returning to normalcy will prove to be another challenge for its local citizens, government officials, and security forces.


Sources Cited: 

Fuccaro, Nelida. 1999. The Other Kurds: Yazidis in Colonial Iraq

Mosul Post-ISIL: Heritage Destruction and the Future of the City

By Michael Danti, Kyra Kaercher, Allison Cuneo, Marina Gabriel, Susan Penacho, and Gwendolyn Kristy

The Battle for Mosul

On July 10, 2017, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced Iraq’s victory over ISIL in the militant group’s former northern Iraqi stronghold of Mosul. His announcement followed months of fighting, extensive aerial bombardment, massive infrastructure damage, human displacement, and thousands of civilian casualties. The struggle for Mosul spanned nine months, with the most intense fighting occurring in the labyrinthine confines of the Old City. The final month of military operations brought the worst damage and high numbers of civilian casualties as ISIL militants unleashed waves of car bombings, suicide bombers, and snipers to target both Iraqi forces and Mosul residents. As of the publishing date, Iraqi forces continued clearing operations, rooting out final pockets of ISIL fighters concealed amid the rubble of once bustling neighborhoods.

Throughout its long history, Mosul and its precursors such as Nineveh have served as key economic and agricultural hubs on the  northern Iraqi plain, occupying a strategic location along the Tigris River. In 2014, Mosul contained a population of almost two million comprising several major ethnic groups, including Arabs, Kurds, Assyrians, Armenians, and Turkmen. Diverse religions also co-existed with communities of Sunni, Shia and Sufi Muslims; Orthodox, Catholic, and Assyrian Christians; a Jewish population; and a small Yazidi population, making Mosul one of Iraq’s most diverse cities. The discovery of oil in northeastern Iraq in the 19th century transformed the city into an economic capital. With the founding of the University of Mosul in 1967, the city became a cultural capital for much of northern Iraq. The University is world renowned, and considered one of the premiere institutions in the Middle East. Such preeminence has earned Mosul the moniker of “Iraq’s Second City”. 

ASOR CHI has monitored recapturing operations in Mosul and has documented damage to dozens of cultural heritage sites. As of July 12, 2017, we have reported 87 individual incidents of damage to religious heritage including mosques (47 incidents), churches (26 incidents), shrines (10 incidents), and cemeteries (4 incidents). We have reported 42 individual incidents of damage to secular sites, including University buildings (23 incidents), libraries  (8 incidents),  museums (4 incidents), and other buildings (7 incidents). Lastly, we have documented 27 individual incidents of damage impacting archaeological sites, including 24 at Nineveh and one each to Bashtapia, Qara Serai, and Deir Mar Elia. In all, ASOR CHI has recorded damage to 102 individual sites in Mosul, and the number is rising as more photographs and videos are released from liberated regions.

The Cultural Casualties of War

Habitation in the Mosul area stretches back to around 6000 BCE. The city is perhaps best known for the ancient site of Nineveh, the former capital of the Assyrian Empire (911–612 BCE). During the Islamic Period (ca. 600 CE–Present), Mosul has served as the seat of various dynasties. Mongols conquered the city in 1262 CE. In 1555 CE, the city fell under the control of the Ottoman Empire. In its more recent history, Mosul was has been a city of diversity, with many of Iraq’s minority populations coexisting. The city is also home to Mosul University (founded 1967 CE) — the second largest university in Iraq — and the Mosul Museum established in 1952.

The Old City of Mosul, located on the Western Bank of the Tigris, dates back to the Zengid Dynasty (1127–1250 CE)  with historic suqs, mosques, churches, and government buildings dating from 1200–1800 CE. In June 2014, a force of about 1,000 ISIL militants invaded the city.

DigitalGlobe Satellite Imagery shows the location of Nineveh (blue) and the Old City (red) (DigitalGlobe; July 2017)

Between June 2014 and late December 2015, ISIL carried out multiple intentional destructions of major cultural heritage sites across Mosul. ISIL destroyed shrines, graveyards, and mosques because they believe people are praying to the people buried there instead of only to Allah — such supposed intercession is contrary to their beliefs. al-Arabiya reported on July 5, 2014 that four shrines to Sunni Arab or Sufi figures as well as six Shia mosques were destroyed across northern Ninawa province. They report that Sunni and Sufi shrines were bulldozed, while Shia mosques and shrines were destroyed by explosions. On July 29, 2014 the Assyrian International News Agency (AINA) reported that ISIL had destroyed or occupied all 45 Christian institutions in Mosul. While later evidence confirmed that not as many sites were destroyed as originally reported by news organizations and in social media, all churches sustained some type of damage or occupation between 2014–2017. ASOR CHI has confirmed the total destruction of 32 religious sites, including shrines, mosques, churches, and cemeteries during ISIL’s three-year occupation. ISIL forces intentionally damaged Mar Ahudemmeh, Kanisat al-Sa’a, and the Church of the Holy Spirit. The destructions of al-Nuri al-Kabir Mosque and al-Habda Minaret were ISIL’s final intentional destructions in Mosul and represent cruel acts of retributory violence.


An aerial view of the remains of al-Nuri al-Kabir Mosque and al-Hadba Minaret (AP; July 6, 2017)

ISIL also intentionally destroyed or repurposed places of higher learning, including universities and libraries. Beginning in 2015, ISIL looted Mosul University and repurposed it as a teaching facility and munitions factory. Militants burned other education buildings that were either unused or deemed heretical. ISIL looted and vandalized the Mosul Central Library in 2014 and 2015, burning large parts of the library’s collections. The same fate befell Mosul University Library, where ISIL militants looted and burned books. The destruction to Mosul’s educational and cultural infrastructure prompted UNESCO General Director, Irina Bokova, to condemn the destruction stating, “this destruction marks a new phase in the cultural cleansing perpetrated in regions controlled by armed extremists in Iraq. It adds to the systematic destruction of heritage and the persecution of minorities that seeks to wipe out the cultural diversity that is the soul of the Iraqi people.”

ISIL also targeted Mosul’s archaeological heritage. The Assyrian site of Nineveh was looted by the group during their three-year occupation. Nebi Yunus, also known as the Tomb of Jonah, was destroyed by ISIL in 2014. Following the recapture of the area in 2017, various sources revealed, that ISIL had tunneled under the site into a Palace of the Assyrian king Esarhaddon in order to loot antiquities. The Mosul Museum was looted and vandalized in 2015. In 2016, the militants leveled the monumental Adad, Mashki, and Nergal city gates and destroyed sculptures inside the structures. ISIL dismantled the Palace of Sennacherib (the Southwest Palace) in 2016 and constructed a new road across the southern part of the archaeological mound which began in 2015 and was completed in 2016.

Intentional damage to Nergal Gate (Amaq News Agency; June 7, 2016)

Palace of Esarhaddon underneath Nebi Yunus (Yahoo News; March 7, 2017)

The start of the offensive to liberate Mosul led to an increase in military related damage to heritage sites. The US-led Coalition heavily bombed Mosul University in 2016, targeting 19 of the university’s buildings that were being used by ISIL. ASOR CHI recorded a total of 28 buildings damaged by military activity in 2016.  

Damage to Headquarters of the President of Mosul (Amaq News Agency; March 21, 2016)

In 2017, Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) recaptured Mosul’s Eastern Bank and military operations turned to the Old City, ISIL’s last bastion. Since January 1, 2017, ASOR CHI has reported military damage to 57 heritage sites, 52 of which are located on the city’s West Bank. Due to ISIL’s media blackout, it is currently unclear when much of this damage occurred. The UN reports that 5,000 buildings were damaged and 490 were destroyed in the Old City alone, “The city's basic infrastructure has also been hard hit, with six western districts almost completely destroyed and initial repairs expected to cost more than $1 billion, the United Nations estimates.”

Vandalism and theft as well as development threats to sites were not new issues when ISIL took control of Mosul. By 2010, modern development covered almost 40 percent of Nineveh, and looting was on the rise due to instability linked to insurgents. Caches of artifacts and other cultural property have begun appearing in liberated houses across Mosul, including natural history specimens, artifacts from museums and local archaeological sites, and books from libraries. As ASOR CHI has documented elsewhere in Iraq and Syria, liberation from ISIL does not end vandalism and theft. Recent photographs from al-Hadba Minaret show graffiti linked to Iraqi Security Forces (ISF). 

A view of some of the 490 destroyed building in the Old City (BBC; July 10, 2017) From front to back - Bab al-Tub Mosque , Mosque of the Pasha, ‘Abdal Mosque, al-Tahira Church, Archbishopric of Catholic Church

The Future of Mosul

Emergency response and longer term reconstruction projects for historical and archaeological heritage may only move forward in lockstep with restoring basic human services and critical infrastructure. As a result of the ISIL occupation and the subsequent military campaign, Mosul has lost reliable electricity, sewer systems, waste disposal, drinking water, bridges, schools, and its airport. The United Nations has reported that of the 54 residential districts in the western half of Mosul, 15 are heavily damaged and at least 23 are moderately damaged. An estimated 900,000 people of Mosul’s 2 million person population remain displaced. Of those displaced, around 200,000 now lack homes. Reconstruction estimates reach upwards of 100 billion dollars with a time-frame of ten years to return Mosul to the condition it was before the ISIL occupation.

Mosul is one of the largest Sunni majority cities in a largely Shia majority country. In the past, the lack of Sunni Muslim governance in the Shia-led government has been a source of tension and conflict. Under Saddam’s rule (1979–2003), Arabs from the south of Iraq were resettled in Mosul, pushing out an estimated half million Kurds from Ninawa Governorate. In 2007, the Kurdish coalition held 31 of 41 seats even though Kurds made up only 35 percent of the population of Ninawa Governorate. Tensions were running high between these different groups, and ISIL exploited these ethno-sectarian tensions to recruit Sunni Arabs to their cause. Under ISIL’s rule, most Shia, Christians, Kurds, Yazidis and other religious and ethnic groups targeted by ISIL fled Mosul under the threat of death.

al-Hadba Minaret with Iraqi forces in front and graffiti present (Private Facebook Account; July 8, 2017)

Mosul has now been liberated by a mixed group of Shia and Sunni Iraqi security forces, Shia Popular Mobilization Front (PMF) units, Kurdish Peshmerga Forces, and Iraqi-Christian militias. These different groups continue to control different neighborhoods in Mosul and the surrounding countryside. The sectarian nature of some of these armed groups has led to concern among the Sunni population of the city that sectarian retributory constitutes a major risk. After the capture of Tikrit and Fallujah, Shia militia members were accused of conducting sectarian revenge killings, as well as intentional destructions of Sunni religious sites, homes, and businesses. As the PMF remains an official branch of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), under the auspices of Baghdad, concern runs  high as to the level of impunity these forces may enjoy.

On the Kurdish front, Peshmerga forces are reluctant to return Iraqi territory captured in their efforts to push ISIL from the Nineveh Plains. Iraqi officials as well as Ninawa Governorate residents have already voiced concern that Kurdish forces may be attempting to hold the area in order to gain territory and exert political leverage. Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, Commander of the Combined Joint Task Force - Operation Inherent Resolve,  has already cautioned that in order to keep “[ISIL] 2.0 from emerging, the Iraqi government is going to have to do something pretty significantly different” to avoid the same sectarian tensions that led to the fall of Mosul in 2014 and the rampant expansion of ISIL.

With the defeat of ISIL and the return of Iraqi governance, suicide bombings are on the rise and some experts predict a return to the low-level insurgency prominent in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003 that continued up until 2014. In addition to immediate challenges, longer term issues related to Mosul’s governance and political control of neighboring regions are still under negotiation.

The toll of the war on civilians is staggering. A generation of Iraqis have now grown up under the instability of the post-Saddam era and  the atrocities  of the Islamic State. In the battle to recapture Mosul, ISIL used civilians as human shields and targeted anyone attempting to flee, resulting in a traumatized population, many whom are now displaced. In Haider al-Abadi’s July 11 victory speech, he called for the unification of Iraq and lauded the victory over ISIL as one for Iraq by Iraqis. He further stated that the unity achieved to defeat ISIL must continue to rebuild the country. UN special representative Jan Kubis expressed his strong belief that any reconstruction work must run parallel to "robust political process to conduct elections and achieve national and societal reconciliation and rebuild the social fabric...The peace... must be based on solid foundations of unity, co-operation, justice, tolerance and coexistence starting at the societal, community and tribal levels to prevent falling back into the past and risk disastrous consequences.” Mosul’s cultural resources and cultural sector form integral and inextricable parts of such reconciliation and peacebuilding efforts.

Students sort books at Mosul University (Buzzfeed; July 2017)

Despite months of horror and fear, hope still remains among Mosulis in recaptured areas. In eastern Mosul, people are returning to rebuild their lives. They are returning to their jobs, and the government is repairing roads and infrastructure to facilitate resettlement. In April 2017, professors and students of Mosul University started to clean and repair buildings in anticipation of resuming classes in the fall semester.  All professors were advised to return to Mosul after exams, which were given in Mosul U’s temporary campuses Dohuk and Kirkuk in the Kurdistan region. The exams were held in mid June, so the professors have time to prepare themselves and the university for the new school year, beginning in September. Rebuilding the libraries has started, with donations of hundreds of books coming from Marseille, Bibliotheca Alexandria, Basra University, and Dijlah University College, as well as from organizations from around the world. With a unified effort from all groups who live in Mosul and robust international support, Mosul will rise again to become northern Iraq’s premiere city.

Future ASOR CHI Efforts in Mosul

ASOR CHI will work closely with Iraqi cultural heritage personnel to support their efforts to rehabilitate Mosul’s cultural resources and infrastructure and to rejuvenate the cultural and educational sectors generally. Success depends on providing a broad-base of support to Iraq’s heritage experts and local stakeholders as soon as possible. In the coming months, ASOR CHI will implement new emergency response projects to repair damaged heritage sites and to mitigate threats to cultural assets in cooperation with Iraq’s State Board of Antiquities and Heritage. In addition, we are currently launching a project to inventory and digitally preserve textual collections and collections management data in the city as part of a joint effort bringing together various Iraqi authorizing agencies and private institutions, the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library, and the Centre Numérique des Manuscrits Orientaux . This effort is supported through a generous grant from the Whiting Foundation.

Since 2014, ASOR CHI has worked closely with our Iraqi colleagues to provide them with assistance and to expose the atrocities committed in northern Iraq to the world. We hope that the future holds peace and prosperity for Iraq, and ASOR CHI will continue to assist Iraqis in preserving and protecting cultural heritage. We will never forget the cherished friends and colleagues that we have lost in Mosul, nor the tragedy that has befallen this vibrant and ancient city.

UPDATE: Damage to al-Rafiqah Wall in Raqqa’s Old City by US-led Coalition Forces

Satellite Image 1 - Close up of al-Rafiqah wall before the airstrikes (DigitalGlobe NextView License; July 1, 2017)

Satellite Image 2 - Close up showing one part of the damaged wall and tracks over the debris (DigitalGlobe NextView License; July 7, 2017)

By Michael Danti, Darren Ashby, Marina Gabriel, and Susan Penacho

On July 3, 2017 the US-led Coalition conducted airstrikes on two 25 m-long sections of the city wall of Raqqa, also known as the al-Rafiqah Wall. DigitalGlobe satellite imagery confirms that the strikes hit the eastern portion of the wall. The first breach is located 80 m south of Qasr al-Banat, the remains of an Abbasid-period palace. The second breach lies roughly 500 m further north.

US Central Command (USCENTCOM) stated in a press release the following day that the US-led Coalition had targeted the wall in order to create new access points for the advance of US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) into the Old City of Raqqa that would avoid locations fortified by ISIL. This same source also asserted that the two strikes helped preserve the remainder of the wall as well as the lives of civilians and members of the SDF by accelerating ISIL’s defeat. Members of the SDF first reached the al-Rafiqah Wall on June 12, 2017.

This image posted online on March 22, 2015, by the Islamic State group, shows the Old City wall of Raqqa. (AP; 2015)

A July 12 photograph of the northern breach to the al-Rafiqah Wall with tracks over the debris present - see Satellite Image 2 above (Private Twitter Account; 2017)


The al-Rafiqah Wall originally surrounded al-Rafiqah, a garrison town built next to the city of Raqqa by the Abbasid caliph al-Mansur in 771–772 CE. Under Harun al-Rashid, al-Mansur’s grandson, the dual city of al-Raqqa/al-Rafiqah served as the summer residence of the caliph and capital city of the Abbasid Caliphate. Harun al-Rashid’s sons moved the imperial capital back to Iraq, but the city continued to serve as a provincial capital and military base. The Mongols sacked the city during the 13th century CE, sending it into a deep decline.

The al-Rafiqah defenses initially consisted of a main wall, an outer wall, and a moat. The defenses stretched ca. 5 km, enclosing an area of 1.47 km2. Roughly 2.6 km of the northern, eastern, and southeastern sections of the main wall remain standing. Semi-circular towers project from the face of the main wall every 25–28 m.

In 1976, the Syrian Directorate-General of Antiquities and Museums began to restore the Abbasid-period remains in Raqqa. The al-Rafiqah Wall received repairs and consolidations in a number of areas, primarily along its eastern and northern sides.


ASOR CHI previously reported on damage to the al-Rafiqah Wall in 2015. For more information on this damage, see ASOR CHI Weekly Report 38 and 59-60.

ASOR CHI remains concerned as to the ongoing military operations occurring around the al-Rafiqah Wall, and will continue to monitor reports of damage. Despite a high degree of modern reconstruction, the al-Rafiqah Wall represents a rare example of an Abbasid-era fortified city and forms an integral part of the modern urbanscape. The wall and other monuments and archaeological sites in the greater Raqqa area, many of which have been deliberately targeted or looted by ISIL, serve as a source of great pride for the city’s inhabitants and attest to over 8000 years of human occupation at this strategic location at the confluence of the Euphrates and Balikh rivers.


The al-Rafiqah Wall plays a significant role in structuring the battle for Raqqa's Old City. This photograph shows one of the roads through the wall that ISIL has blocked (far left) as well as the northern breach opened by the US-led Coalition (center of image between the seventh and eighth rounded tower) (Private Twitter Account; July 11, 2017)



Becker, Andrea (2004) “Die ‘abbāsidische Stadtmauer,” in Baudenkmäler und Paläste I, ed. Verena Daiber and Andrea Becker. Raqqa III. Mainz am Rhein: Verlag Philipp von Zabern, 3–4.

Heidemann, Stefan (2003) “Die Geschichte von ar-Raqqa/ar-Rāfiqa – ein Überblick,” in Die islamische Stadt, ed. Stefan Heidemann and Andrea Becker. Raqqa II. Mainz am Rhein: Verlag Philipp von Zabern, 9–56.

al-Khalaf, Murhaf (1985) “Die ‘abbāsidische Stadtmauer von ar-Raqqa/ar-Rāfiqa.” Damaszener Mitteilungen 2, 123–131.

Satellite Imagery Confirms the Destruction of al-Nuri al-Kabir Mosque and al-Hadba Minaret by ISIL

DigitalGlobe satellite imagery shows the mosque and minaret prior to destruction on June 19, 2017

DigitalGlobe satellite imagery shows the mosque and minaret on June 22, 2017

 By Michael Danti, Marina Gabriel, Susan Penacho, Kyra Kaercher, and Allison Cuneo


On June 21, 2017 ISIL militants exploded al-Nuri al-Kabir Mosque and the iconic al-Hadba Minaret in Mosul’s Old City. Iraqi forces were nearing the mosque, a highly symbolic objective, reportedly advancing to within 50 meters before the detonation. The Iraqi Military released a statement blaming ISIL for the destruction of the mosque, while ISIL propaganda attempted to blame the US-led Coalition. The US-led Coalition released a statement confirming that no aircraft were in the area at the time of the explosion. Video footage released several hours after the first reports of the destruction shows a simultaneous, mass detonation taking place from inside the mosque and minaret, mirroring similar videos of ISIL demolition using fixed charges.

Al-Nuri al-Kabir Mosque and al-Hadba Minaret were constructed between 1170 and 1172 CE under the patronage of Nur al-Din, the second ruler of the Zengid Dynasty. Nur al-Din ordered the foundation of the mosque to be constructed in the Old City neighborhood of Mosul, and appointed a local overseer. For centuries it ranked as the largest Sunni mosque in Mosul. Ernst Herzfeld visited the mosque in 1910 and described its plan as a conglomeration of various episodes of building. After its original construction, the mosque was renovated in 1511 by the Safavids. The mosque was again dismantled and reconstructed in 1864. The 1864 reconstruction included some original material, as well as material from other mosques and churches in Mosul. In 1942, al-Nuri al-Kabir Mosque was once again dismantled and reassembled by a restoration program undertaken by the Iraqi government and using a different plan from the previous mosque.

At the time of its completion in 1172 CE, the al-Hadba minaret was 45 meters (150 feet) high, with seven ornamental bands of brickwork at different levels around its cylindrical shaft. The tower was supported by a cubical base and ended with a cupola over a bracketed balcony. Ibn Battuta visited Mosul in the14th century CE and recorded that the minaret had already begun to lean and was affectionately known by its nickname, "the Hunchback" (al-Hadba). The cause of al-Hadba’s iconic lean is disputed, although local officials attribute it either to the effects of thermal expansion of the brick on the sun-facing side, north-westerly winds, or the weak gypsum used in holding the bricks together. Unlike al-Nuri al-Kabir Mosque, the al-Hadba Minaret was never renovated or reconstructed, and had remained in its original form since 1172.

(Library of Congress; Accessed June 23, 2017)

The famous leaning al-Hadba Minaret (Panoramio)

During the Iran-Iraq War shelling struck an area near the minaret, damaging underground pipes. This disruption in the ground resulted in the minaret leaning an additional 40 cm. In 2010 the minaret was included on the World Monuments Watch list. Prior to ISIL’s takeover of Mosul, the World Monuments Fund was working in cooperation with the Iraqi Institute of Antiquities and Heritage, preparing Iraqi and Kurdish students for future restoration work. This work came to a halt in June 2014.

Following ISIL’s takeover of the city in June 2014, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi conducted a 21-minute sermon inside al-Nur al-Kabir Mosque where he asserted himself to be the group’s caliph. In July 2014, Mosul residents defied ISIL, protecting the site from imminent destruction. According to local residents present at the time, ISIL militants carrying heavy explosives converged on the site prompting those living nearby to rush “to the courtyard below the minaret, [sat] on the ground, and arms to form a human chain,” threatening the militants that they would have to kill them too if they intended to blow up the minaret. The mosque and minaret remained largely undamaged during three years of ISIL’s brutal rule over the cityalthough the dome of the mosque was damaged during ongoing military operations in the Old Cityuntil June 21, 2017 in what may prove to be the final days of ISIL in Mosul.

ASOR CHI will continue to monitor the site as more details of its destruction emerge. Such appalling acts of retributory violence typify ISIL as the organization loses territory on multiple fronts and conducts a scorched earth policy. ASOR CHI strongly condemns this criminal act.

Click on the line below and scroll right and left to view Digital Globe satellite imagery of the site before and after destruction

Smoke from nearby explosion surrounds the mosque and minaret (Times of Oman)

The black flag of ISIL seen atop the minaret during operations to recapture the city (Reuters)

Additional Sources

Tabbaa, Yasser. 2002. “The Mosque of Nur al-Din in Mosul 1170.” Annales Islamologiques. 36:339–360.

al-Daywaji, S. 1949. "Al-Jami' al-Nuri fi al'Mawsil" Sumer 5:276-96.
Herzfeld, E. and F. Sarre. 1911. Archaeologische Reise im Euphrat-un Tigris-Gebiet. Berlin: D. Reimer. 

ASOR Cultural Heritage Initiatives: Safeguarding the Heritage of the Near East Initiative Collaborative Service Award


ASOR Media Note—For Immediate Release

The American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) is pleased to announce a new $900,000 cooperative agreement between the U.S. Department of State and ASOR Cultural Heritage Initiatives (ASOR CHI): “Safeguarding the Heritage of the Near East Initiative Collaborative Service Award.” The project continues the strong partnership between ASOR and the U.S. Department of State to preserve and protect the cultural heritage of Syria and Iraq, and to extend the scope of work to include the preservation and protection of the cultural heritage of Libya. The new cooperative agreement also includes increased support for in-country projects that connect local communities to historic places and heritage.

ASOR, founded in 1900, is the preeminent organization of archaeologists, historians, linguists, and cultural heritage professionals who initiate, encourage, and support research into, and public understanding of, the cultures and history of the Near East and wider Mediterranean. As ASOR’s President, Susan Ackerman (Dartmouth College) observed, “The work of ASOR CHI is a fundamental part of ASOR’s mission, and we are very pleased to begin another year partnering with the Department of State to preserve and protect the cultural heritage of Iraq, Syria, and now Libya. We are proud to be able to do all we can on behalf of these countries’ cultural heritage and on behalf of their citizens, whose identity is supported and sustained in these war-torn times by the rich cultural legacies of their homelands.”

ASOR CHI is lead by four principal investigators: Michael Danti (ASOR Academic Director), Andrew Vaughn (ASOR Executive Director), Scott Branting (University of Central Florida), and Susan Kane (Oberlin College). Marina Gabriel, Susan Penacho, and Will Raynolds serve as Project Managers. The international team also includes 15 eminent specialists who have agreed to donate more than 600 hours of expert time over the course of the twelve-month project.

Since ASOR CHI’s work began, in August 2014, the Cultural Heritage Initiatives team has carried out three emergency response initiatives in Syria and produced over 1,000 reports on the cultural heritage situation in Syria and northern Iraq. In addition, ASOR CHI inventoried 13,000 sites in Syria and northern Iraq, conducted 9,000 satellite assessments, completed 750 detailed condition assessments, made 4,150 heritage observations, and compiled 10,000 archived media entries on cultural heritage incidents and assets. All of these data have been used to assist local cultural heritage experts in emergency response efforts and to help combat the trafficking of illicit antiquities by terrorists. The incident reports and special reports have affected U.S. policy and law and are posted online.

ASOR CHI’s work is a prime example of how and why the humanities and social sciences are a critical component in the international effort to fight terrorism. Pauline Yu, President of the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS), stated, “I commend the scholars of ASOR for applying their deep expertise to this urgent need. The destruction and looting of ancient monuments and artifacts deprives not just the suffering people in conflict zones of their priceless cultural heritage, but all the world’s people. ASOR’s work is a splendid demonstration of humanities scholarship in the service of humanity.” William Adams, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, added, “NEH is pleased that ASOR continues to document the destruction of antiquities in the Middle East and that the training of cultural heritage professionals in the region continues to be a priority. NEH shares and supports ASOR’s commitment to preserving this heritage.”

The United States is committed to protecting cultural heritage from pillage, looting, and illicit trafficking around the world, and the cooperative agreement between the U.S. Department of State and ASOR is part of a larger U.S. Department of State effort to preserve the historic sites and treasures in Syria, Iraq, and Libya. To learn more about the State Department’s efforts to protect the cultural heritage of Syria, Iraq, and Libya, please visit

The cooperative agreement between ASOR and the U.S. Department of State is jointly managed by ASOR ( and the Office of Press and Public Diplomacy of the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs and the Cultural Heritage Center of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA). For further information, please contact ASOR’s Cultural Heritage Initiatives office (

Learn more at ASOR’s Cultural Heritage Initiatives website.

Download PDF version of this media note HERE

The American Schools of Oriental Research
656 Beacon Street, 5th Floor
Boston, MA 02215
Telephone: 617-353-6570

ARTICLE: Remote Sensing Applied to War-Torn Regions

Remote Sensing Applied to War-Torn Regions
Point of Beginning Online

Prof. Jesse Casana describes how satellite imagery assists archaeologists document archaeological sites, historical buildings, museums, mosques and other religious sites that have been damaged by war activity.
Read the article

(Photo: Susan Penacho, ASOR CHI)

UPDATE Palmyra: New photographs detail damage to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Palmyra

On March 2, 2017 SARG and pro-regime allies, backed by Russian airstrikes, recaptured the UNESCO World Heritage site of Palmyra from ISIL. ISIL had previously recaptured the area in December 2016. Photographs and video footage released confirm the damage to the Roman Theater and Tetrapylon first reported by ASOR CHI in January 2017. It is reasonable to expect that the renewed fighting has also impacted the Citadel. According to some reports, ISIL militants may have mined much of the ancient site as they retreated from the city.

In May 2016, after the site was recaptured from ISIL, a Russian symphony orchestra performed a concert in the Roman Theater. ISIL was able to recapture Tadmor/Palmyra as the focus of SARG military activity shifted to the city of Aleppo. ISIL then carried out revenge killings and other acts of retributory violence, and the most recent attacks in Palmyra targeting secular as opposed to religious monuments may be indicative of similar motives. The Roman Theater and Tetrapylon were spared deliberate destruction during the first ISIL occupation, which saw widespread deliberate destruction of ancient temples, tombs, and antiquities in the Palmyra Archaeological Museum, as well as the looting of antiquities for sale.

The Roman Theater (facing northwest) after the site was recaptured from ISIL by the Syrian Army (Valery Sharifulin/Getty; April 3, 2016)

The tetrapylon of Palmyra after the site was first recaptured from ISIL by the Syrian Army (Valery Sharifulin/Getty; April 3, 2016). The monument is now destroyed following the second ISIL occupation.

Damage to the Roman Theater seen on March 2, 2017 (DGAM; March 2, 2017)

Damage to the Tetrapylon as seen on March 2, 2017 (DGAM; March 2, 2017)

In January 2017, reports surfaced that ISIL militants had carried out a new wave of executions, including one inside the Roman Theater. Satellite imagery showed debris in the center of the stage, though the extent of the damage was previously unknown. New photographs show that the Roman Theater has sustained damage to the stage backdrop (scaenae frons), primarily in the area of the Porticus. The main entrance of the stage backdrop was badly damaged with the peaked roof and columns destroyed with debris scattered across the stage. 

Palmyra's late 2nd-century CE Severan-period theater is located southwest of the colonnaded Decumanus. The theater is unfinished, consisting only of the lowest level of seating, the ima cavea (the media and summa caveae would normally be above this lowest section, which is reserved for the elite), but still represents one of the best preserved Roman theaters in Syria. The Roman Theater is ringed by a colonnaded portico that opens onto a colonnaded street leading to Palmyra’s Southern Gate.

Satellite imagery also confirmed that ISIL militants had destroyed the Tetrapylon. Photographs recently shared by DGAM show four pillars of the original 16 still standing, while the other 12 have been heavily damaged and are scattered around the base of the monument.

The Tetrapylon at Palmyra consists of four large plinths, each supporting four columns topped by a massive corinth. This type of tetrapylon is called a tetrakionion, in which the four corners of the structure are not connected overhead. The main colonnaded street of Palmyra changes direction twice, and at these points unique architectural devices — the Triumphal Arch and the Tetrapylon — were built to make the route appear more harmonious. Only one of the original pink Egyptian granite columns survives — the others are modern reproductions.

Video footage of the Citadel released by Ruptly TV shows the presence of armed forces, possible evidence of militarization of the site, as well as extensive explosives damage. The Citadel has suffered repeated war-related damage incidents the last few years, and it is often difficult to discern the impacts of recent incidents from earlier damage using the available photo documentation. It is clear, however, that ongoing clashes and aerial bombardment since ISIL captured Palmyra/Tadmor have severely damaged the ancient Citadel.

ASOR CHI will continue to monitor the developments in Palmyra and remains concerned about the plight of civilians in Tadmor.

For media inquiries regarding the recent attack on Palmyra, please contact and

The current condition of the Citadel (DGAM; March 2, 2017)