Syria : the museum of Damascus re-opens its doors in spite of the war


    The national museum of Damascus, in Syria, closed in 2012, reopened its doors. The public will again be able to contemplate a part of the remains millennia exposed as marble statues, mosaics and sarcophagi in stone. In the gardens of the institution, closed because of the conflict that is tearing the country apart since 2011, visitors are greeted by the imposing sculpture in limestone of a lion of Palmyra, gem of the ancient city, the syrian 2,000-year-old.

    three meters High, the sculpture of 15 tons also called the lion of al-Lat., the name of the goddess of pre-islamic fertility and femininity, had been destroyed by the jihadists of the group islamic State (EI) who were in possession of Palmyra, “the pearl of the desert” in syria, in may 2015. But the scattered pieces have been regularly gathered. For the moment, the visitors do have access to a wing where 1 500 objects are exposed, on more than 100 000 hidden in the institution, ” says Mahmoud Hammoud, the head of the Directorate general of antiquities and museums (DGAM).

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    They will soon be able to walk around freely in other rooms, but can already admire the mosaics of the Fifth and sixth centuries, featuring sometimes panthers and the roosters. There is also the roman statue in white marble of a sporty naked body of sculptural works, dating from the Second century after J.-C., or still an imposing sarcophagus of Palmyra, on which is perched the statue of a notable half-lying, holding in his hand a tumbler. On the sides, of the frescos, elaborate carved in stone.

    The target of the shells fired by the rebels

    Located in the heart of Damascus, the national museum, founded in 1920, was closed in 2012. Fief government, the capital remained relatively safe from violence. But she had become the target of shells fired by the rebels. Many of the pieces were then transferred in a secure location, officials fearing that breed in Syria, the looting has hit museums in Iraq in the aftermath of the american invasion in 2003.

    “We have closed all of the museums (…) and emptied all the rooms,” remembers Maamoun AbdulKarim, former director of the DGAM. In total, 300,000 pieces belonging to the 34 museums of Syria, of which 80 000 of Damascus, were put away in secret places protected from fire, mortars, and floods. “We packed and placed the objects in safes,” says the director of the historic buildings to the DGAM, Ahmed Dib. “The parts that are difficult to transport, remained on the spot, but protected with blocks of cement placed all around,” he remembers.

    Relocated in 1936 in the current building of the national museum of Damascus, the collections are divided according to their periodicity history : prehistory, classical period, islamic period and modern times. They range from the conquests of Alexander the Great (323 bc) to the end of the byzantine era and the beginning of the moslem conquests.

    the restoration of The Lion of Palmyra, a symbol of a return to stability

    According to the DGAM, several archaeological sites across the country have been damaged by the war, including the medieval citadel of Aleppo (North), the second largest city of Syria, the hellenistic temple of BĂȘl and the famous arc de triumph in Palmyra. The Unesco has listed six sites syrians on its list of world heritage in danger, including the old city of Aleppo, the citadel of Saladin and old Damascus.

    For some, the restoration of the Lion of Palmyra, symbolizes a return to stability at a time when the Assad regime, supported by the allied Russian, has consolidated his hold on the capital and its surroundings. “This is one of the first statues to have been restored “, said the Agency France-Presse, the archaeologist Polish Bartosz Markowski, who had already contributed in 2005 with a renovation of the statue. In 2016, when the government forces backed by allied Russian were chased out the jihadists of Palmyra, the archaeologist found himself in front of the lion smashed in.

    Of new restoration works were then carried out. “This is something important for people. They can see the symbol of a conflict that is nearing its end. Slowly, but the situation is improving, ” says the archaeologist. To complete this puzzle, a piece was missing. Between the paws of the lion, an antelope failed had lost its muzzle. Found, this week only, it has been fixed on the sculpture on the eve of the inauguration.

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