Archaeologists and restoration specialists attend ceremony at National Museum in Damascus
Syrian officials, foreign archaeologists and restoration specialists have attended the reopening ceremony of Syria’s National Museum in the heart of Damascus, more than six years after it was shut down and emptied as the country’s civil war encroached on the capital.
The occasion was hailed as a return to normal life by Syrian officials, eager to cash in on military victories against armed groups who had only recently shelled Damascus and threatened the seat of government.
With the backing of the country’s allies, Russia and Iran, Syrian troops moved in on rebel enclaves on the outskirts of Damascus, expelling the armed groups to the north and restoring calm.
“The opening of the museum is a genuine message that Syria is still here and her heritage would not be affected by terrorism,” Syria’s minister of culture, Mohamed al-Ahmad, told reporters and visitors. “Today, Damascus has recovered.”
Among the antiquities on display are murals from the 2nd century Dura-Europos in Syria’s east, textiles from central Palmyra and statues of the Greek goddess of victory from the south.
Syria’s conflict, raging since early 2011, has been disastrous for the country’s rich heritage. Authorities shut down museums and safely stored away more than 300,000 artefacts, but many sites were destroyed by the Islamic State group, damaged by the fighting or looted.
Mahmoud Hammoud, the head of the general directorate for antiquities and museums, said four of the five sections of the museum would be opened to showcase hundreds of archaeological findings that date back to the prehistoric, historical, classical and Islamic eras. He said some artefacts restored or seized by the Syrian authorities would also be on display.
More than 9,000 artefacts have been restored and reclaimed since the war began, he said, noting that the museum needs renovation and funds. He said hundreds of thousands of important artefacts and sculptures were smuggled abroad during the crisis.
Visitors will be able to watch as specialists restore hundreds of objects reclaimed from Palmyra, which Isis militants occupied for months, destroying some of the world’s most famous monuments.
Bartosz Markowski, a Polish specialist in conservation of stone sculpture and architectural detail, said he had been working in Palmyra before the war broke out.
“I am saving heritage, mostly in Palmyra, where I have been working before the crisis,” he said. “I came right after liberation and helped with urgent conservation and protection of destroyed objects in Palmyra … There is still a lot of damage in Palmyra.”