Czechs showcase destruction and conservation of Syrian heritage during civil war

Palmyra, photo: Adamkou, CC BY 3.0

Czechs have been in the forefront of worldwide attempts to save Syria’s significant archaeological heritage. The Czech National Museum has been one of the major players in those moves and on Wednesday it opened an exhibition in Prague outlining what has been lost and what has been saved during the country’s civil war.

Palmyra | Photo: Adamkou,  Wikimedia Commons,  CC BY 3.0
ʺFive Years of Crisis - 2011-2015ʺ is the title of the exhibition being staged by the National Museum focused on the sometimes desperate attempts to save Syria’s archaeological treasures during its civil war which has now been going on for more than seven years. It has been estimated that at least a third of the country’s around 10,000 archaeological sites have been damaged to some degree. Many treasures and museums have also been subject to opportunistic and highly organised looting.

The Czech National Museum has been very closely involved in those conservation moves over the last years with director Michal Lukeš visiting Damascus and other cities several times during the conflict to see the problems with his own eyes and how best Czech help could be directed. He described what the largely photographic exhibition with some artefacts on show as well seeks to do:

ʺIt describes the state of the monuments since the start of the conflict and to what degree they have been damaged and the extent of the overall destruction. It also shows how Syrian conservationists have gradually through the conflict tried to save monuments and restore them. It’s a sort of window on the state of Syria’s archaeological heritage which has obviously been destroyed during the civil war.ʺ

Czech help is part of an ongoing programme which will continue until 2019. Some of the training for Syrian conservationists, for example, focuses on how they can use 3D scanning and digitalisation to save some artefacts and conserve and restore sites. But some hands-on training in Prague is also part of the package. Michal Lukeš again:

Michal Lukeš,  photo: Martina Schneibergová
ʺWe have been giving both material aid and offering our own know-how as part of a government humanitarian programme for Syria to help save its world renowned heritage. The National Museum and our colleagues last year gave several million crowns worth of material to help with saving, the restoration, and protection of Syrian objects. We have been out there a few times and at the moment we are preparing a training programme for Syrian experts. And around 20 artefacts from various sites around Syria, including the iconic site of Palmyra, are being prepared to be taken to our Czech conservation workshops so they can be restored and conserved together with Syrian experts.ʺ

And the National Museum has also prepared another exhibition destined this time for the Syrian capital Damascus about Czech castles and stately homes. It should be one of the first foreign exhibitions in Damascus and a signal that some aspects of normal life are returning. The initial attempt to ship the Czech exhibition to Damascus in a military transport had to be abandoned though when fighting re-erupted close to the capital. Another attempt is being prepared.