On Christmas, UNESCO Alerts the Art Market to Potential Trafficking in Artefacts
On December 24th, 2015, Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Irina Bokova condemned the destruction of parts of ancient Syrian city of Bosra, which occurred in fighting earlier this week. Some of the ruins affected, including a magnificent Roman era theater, are nearly 2000 years old, and its obvious why Bosra was inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List back in 1980. Following the destruction of Palmyra’s archeological treasures like it’s funerary busts, the renowned Lion statue of Athena and the ancient temple of Baalshamin all in the past few months, Ms. Bokova sees the destruction sustained by Bosra as “a further escalation in the horror of war and must be stopped at once to allow the concerned parties to consolidate the agreement reached on the ground to preserve the irreplaceable heritage of Bosra.” As extremist groups continue to show brutality and disregard of Syrian people in looting of their heritage, Bokova pleads the world art market to stand vigilant in the fight against the traffic in artefacts originating from these historically invaluable sites.
History in Motion
Syrian Arab Republic already has several sites listed under World Heritage, with a number of others being considered as strong candidates. It only shows how important this whole area, and preserving it, is.
The ancient city of Bosra is a major archeological site, containing ruins from Roman, Byzantine and Muslim time, as well as having Nabatean and Roman monuments, Christian churches, mosques and Madrasas within the city. The name of Bosra first occurs in Tell el-Amarna tablets, dating from the 14th century B.C. Its main feature is the second century Roman Theater, which, after its fortification to create a citadel guarding the road to Damascus between 481 and 1251 A.D., has been integrally preserved. With other monuments like the Al-Omari Mosque, Madrasah Mabrak al-Naqua and the Christian Cathedral of Bosra, the city survived almost 2500 years inhabited and almost intact.
The city of Palmyra predates even Bosra, with its name being mentioned in the archives of Mari in the second millennium B.C. Established as an oasis in the Syrian desert even under Roman control back in the first century A.D., Palmyra grew steadily as a crossroad on the trade route linking Persia, India and China with the Roman Empire, marking its importance for several civilizations in the ancient world. Its influence on architectural styles was a result of the city’s discovery in 17th and 18th century, and with monuments like the Temple of Ba’al, Diocletian’s Camp, the Agora, Theater, and other temples and urban quarters, the site’s value has only increased up to this day.
Erasing the Yesterday
There’s a good reason both cities of Bosra and Palmyra are included on the World Heritage List. The criteria for being admitted are rigorous, and these ancient sites meet more than one, bearing titles such as masterpiece of human creative genius, exhibits of an important interchange in human values on developments in architecture and monumental arts, an outstanding example of architectural ensemble which illustrates significant stages in human history, among others. These sites are standing testaments not only of Syrian history, but of man’s ingenuity, accomplishments, spirituality and past forms of aesthetic tendencies. The fact that they’ve stood tall for more than a millennia only to be brought down in the modern era is a tragedy and an immense loss for the Syrian people and the humanity.
Referring to the recent destruction of these sites, Irina Bokova states: ”Extremists seek to destroy this diversity and richness, and i call on the international community to stand united against this persistent cultural cleansing. Da’esh is killing people and destroying sites, but cannot silence history and will ultimately fail to erase this great culture from the memory of the world. Despite the obstacles and fanaticism, human creativity will prevail, buildings and sites will be rehabilitated, and some will be rebuilt.”
The Threat of Artefact Trafficking
Though a blow has been dealt, adding salt to the wound can be avoided. Warning of potential trafficking of artefacts originating from Bosra after the recent desecration, Ms. Bokova says: “The Roman theatre of Bosra embodies the rich diversity of the identity of the people of Syria and i call on culture professionals worldwide, and particularly on the art market, to be extremely vigilant so as to fight against the traffic in artefacts from Bosra.” Given the historical value these items have, the art market might play a crucial role in making history of tomorrow’s generation.
Featured image: World Heritage Ancient City of Bosra, taken by S.Ichih. Picture used for demonstrative purposes only.