Aleppo: UNESCO site ‘in danger’ in greater peril after Turkey, Syria earthquake

Aleppo: UNESCO site ‘in danger’ in greater peril after Turkey, Syria earthquake

(CNN) Devastating earthquakes in Turkey and Syria on Monday damaged important historical sites, including the ancient city of Aleppo in northwestern Syria, which was already “at risk” from civil war.

The city, which was added to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage List in 1986, has been on the World Heritage in Danger list since 2013 due to ongoing conflict in Syria, along with five other countries in the country.

UNESCO said on Tuesday it would provide aid to damaged heritage sites in Syria and Turkey and offered condolences to the families of victims of the disaster.

The UN cultural organization was “particularly concerned” about the situation in the ancient city of Aleppo.

“Considerable damage has been observed in the citadel. The western tower of the old city wall has collapsed and several buildings in the souk have been weakened,” UNESCO said in a press release.

Syria’s General Directorate of Antiquities and Museums (DGAM) said in a Facebook post on Monday that the 13th-century fortress “suffered minor and moderate damage in which parts of the Ottoman mill fell. [there is] cracks and falling of parts of the north-eastern defensive enclosures. Large parts of the Ayyubid Mosque’s lighthouse dome also fell, the entrances to the fortress were damaged and parts of the stone were damaged, including the entrance to the royal guard tower and the front of the Ottoman shelter.”

The historic ancient city of Aleppo was heavily damaged in the ongoing war, but after reconstruction work it reopened in 2018. DGAM says artifacts inside the National Museum in Aleppo were damaged in Monday’s earthquake.

In Turkey, several buildings have collapsed in the UNESCO site Dijarbakır Castle and Hevsel Gardens Cultural Landscape, according to UNESCO. The country is an important center of the Roman, Sassanid, Byzantine, Islamic and Ottoman periods.

UNESCO said it has been working with its partners on an initial survey of damage to heritage sites and is in the process of compiling “an accurate damage inventory with the aim of securing and quickly stabilizing these sites.”

Other World Heritage sites near the epicenter that could be affected include Göbekli Tepe, Nemrut Dağ and the Tell of Arslantepe in Turkey, UNESCO said.

The damage goes beyond the UNESCO list

Many cultural sites beyond the World Heritage list have also been damaged.

Gaziantep Castle, a historic site and tourist attraction in southeastern Turkey, suffered heavy damage.

“Some of the bastions in the eastern, southern and southeastern parts of the historic Gaziantep Citadel in the central Şahinbey district were destroyed by the earthquake, debris was scattered on the streets,” Turkish state news agency Anadolu reported.

The iron railings around the fort were scattered on the surrounding sidewalks. The retaining wall near the castle has also collapsed. In some bastions, large cracks have been observed,” the report states.

View of the damaged Gaziantep Castle in Turkey on February 6, 2023.

The dome and eastern wall of the historic Shirvani mosque, which is located near the citadel and is said to have been built in the 17th century, also partially collapsed, he added.

According to archaeological excavations, the castle was first built as a watch tower in the Roman period in the second and third centuries AD and expanded over time.

It took its current form during the reign of the Byzantine emperor Justinian (527-565 CE), according to Turkish Museums, the official website of the country’s museums and archaeological sites.

In Syria, DGAM also reports damage to historic buildings and mosques in Hama province in west-central Syria, such as cracks in the structure and collapsed walls at Imam Ismail Mosque and Shmemis Fort.

Al-Marqab Castle, a Crusader fortress near Baniya, in northwestern Syria, also suffered damage, including the collapse of a block from one of its circular towers.

“The earthquake also led to the collapse of the rock cliff in the vicinity of Qadous Fort and the collapse of several residential buildings located on the campus of the fort,” DGAM said.

Experts are still studying the full extent of the damage to historic sites and surrounding historic buildings and neighborhoods. DGAM said on Monday that it had not received “accurate information” about damage in the city of Homs.

CNN’s Lilit Marcus contributed to this report.

Top image: The citadel in Syria’s ancient city of Aleppo was damaged in the earthquakes on February 6, 2023. (AFP via Getty Images)

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