First Published: 2017-02-17

Rare ancient busts rescued from Palmyra to be returned
Two rare busts of man, woman dating to 2nd or 3rd century AD ruined by IS hammers in Syria’s Palmyra to be returned after restoration in Italy.
Middle East Online

Modern technology aided their saving

ROME - Two rare busts rescued from the Islamic State group's destruction of the ancient city of Palmyra will soon be heading back to Syria, after a painstaking restoration in Italy.

Recovered by Syrian troops, they had been badly disfigured with what appeared to be hammer blows and are perhaps the only such artefacts to leave the desert site without being stolen.

Modern technology aided their saving, which is also being seen as a tribute to Khaled al-Assad, the former head of antiquities at Palmyra, murdered by IS fighters in 2015, at the age of 82.

"This is an example of an issue we hold dear: that of cultural diplomacy, the fact that culture can be an instrument for dialogue between people, even when circumstances are difficult," Italian culture minister Dario Franceschini said Thursday.

IS jihadists seized Palmyra in May 2015 and began to systematically destroy the city's monuments and temples, while also looting its many archeological treasures.

They were driven out in March 2016 but recaptured the town last December.

Although the precise date of its founding is unknown, Palmyra's name is referred to on a tablet dating from the 19th century BC as a stopping point for caravans between the Mediterranean and the east.

Known to Syrians as the "Pearl of the Desert", Palmyra boasted temples, colonnaded alleys and elaborately decorated tombs that were among the best preserved classical monuments in the Middle East, before their wanton destruction.

Hundreds of important heritage sites have been sacked or destroyed during the five-year conflict, including the first-century temples of Bel and Baalshamin in Palmyra.

The two funeral busts, which are to be returned to Syrian authorities by the end of the month, were recovered by regime soldiers when they initially retook Palmyra.

They had been badly disfigured by hammers, said former Rome mayor Francesco Rutelli, who promoted the restoration through his "Incontro di Civilta" (Meeting of Civilisations) association.

The busts "are probably the only works of art taken from the Syrian conflict zone that weren't stolen", Franceschini told reporters during a showing at Italy's Superior Institute for Conservation and Restoration.

- 'Ideological battle' -

The busts, of a man and a woman, date to the second and third centuries and were brought to Lebanon before being transferred to Rome, Rutelli said.

He also rejected critics who have denounced the idea of working with the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad while the war in the country rages.

"This gesture has no element of political support on our part. Italy has done it, and will do it, for any country that asks," Rutelli said, noting that the restoration was also a tribute to the late head of antiquities Assad.

Before his death, the octogenarian "managed to hide hundreds of works of art, but not these two busts, which fell into IS hands", Rutelli said.

A team of five specialists worked on the restorations for a month, focusing in particular on the faces.

On one, the upper part of the face had been destroyed, but the team managed to recreate the missing portion using a synthetic nylon powder and a 3-D printer, a technique that had never been used for such a restoration.

The new piece was attached to the bust with powerful magnets, "which makes it completely removable, in line with the principle that all restoration work must be completely reversible", said Antonio Iaccarino, one of the restorers.

"What the Islamic State has destroyed, we have rebuilt," he said. "Through culture, we also wage an ideological battle."

 

US says Iran supplied ballistic missile to Yemen rebels

UN 'appalled' at mass execution of jihadists in Iraq

Palestinians call for protests against Pence Jerusalem visit

Over half Syrian refugees in Lebanon live in 'extreme poverty'

Palestinian activist killed in Gaza protests

Palestinian billionaire detained in Saudi Arabia

Egypt opens Rafah crossing for four days

Turkey court releases 7 suspects in New Year attack trial

Foreign fighters a worry as IS struggles to survive

Palestinians killed in continuing protests over Jerusalem occupation

Bourita: Extraordinary meeting between ECOWAS, Morocco to be held beginning of 2018

Saudi-led air strikes, clashes as Yemen forces battle rebels

Sahel force funding shows terrorism fight is Saudi 'priority'

Iraq's Sistani says Hashed should be under government control

Middle-class Egypt adapts as costs soar

Somalia's budget meets IMF terms

Israel PM questioned in graft probe

Lebanon approves bid for oil, gas exploration

US to present 'irrefutable evidence' of Iran violations

Istanbul 'to remove Gulen links' from street names

Iraq hangs 38 jihadists

Pence to visit Middle East despite controversy

Hamas chief calls for continued Jerusalem protests

EU to repatriate 15,000 migrants from Libya in two months

Syria Kurds fear US ally will desert them after IS defeat

Israeli drugmaker Teva to cut 14,000 jobs over two years

Turkey rescues 51 migrants stranded on rocks

Saudi, UAE hold talks with Yemen Islamists

18 killed after bomber strikes Mogadishu police academy

Israeli air strikes target Hamas military facilities

US-led air strikes kill 23 civilians in Syria

Israel union calls nationwide strike over pharmaceutical giant job cuts

UN envoy urges Putin to press Assad for elections

Yemen's Huthi rebels release pro-Saleh media staff

Israel intelligence minister invites Saudi prince to visit

Saudi-led strikes kill 30 in rebel-run Yemen prison

Saudi king says Palestinians have 'right' to Jerusalem

Erdogan urges world to recognise Jerusalem as Palestinian capital

Saudi King says determined to confront corruption

South Sudan needs $1.7 billion humanitarian aid in 2018

UAE oil giant floats 10 percent of retail arm to strong interest

US skeptical about Putin's declaration of military victory in Syria

Growing concern about rise of far-right in Austria

Saudi, UAE seeks to help West Africa fight terrorism

Somali journalist dies after Mogadishu bombing