National Museum experts to restore valuable artefacts from Syria

The National Museum in Prague has brought some twenty valuable artefacts from Syria to the Czech Republic to be restored by local experts. The objects, dating back to the Bronze Age and Antiquity, will then be displayed in the National Museum’s historic building before returning to their homeland.

Five large wooden crates from Damascus were transported to the National Museum’s restoration workshops in Terezín last week under strict security measures. Carefully packed inside were twenty valuable artefacts, some of them up to 4,000 years old.

Michal Lukeš | Photo: Elena Horálková,  Český rozhlas

Michal Lukeš, the head of the museum, says it is not the first time the National Museum in Prague is assisting in the protection of Syria’s cultural heritage:

“This cooperation has been going on for almost five years. We established it as part of the government’s programme to provide humanitarian development and reconstruction assistance in Syria, which includes helping to save cultural heritage.

“Our main partner is the General Directorate of Syrian Monuments and Museums which is in charge of all the museums and monuments in the country.”

Having already sent materials to Syria to protect the country’s museum collections, the Czech Republic will now provide expertise in restoring the objects damaged by the Islamic State.

Photo: National Museum

Among them is a statue of a woman, with a large part of her face chipped off. The artwork comes from the city of Palmyra, as do three tombstone reliefs.

Samir Masad from the Syrian Embassy in Prague outlines the dramatic circumstances of their rescue:

“The archaeologists in Syria managed to load many objects on trucks and bring them to Damascus. Unfortunately, some of the staff paid for it with their lives.

“The world-renowned scientist Khaled Asaad was executed because he did not want to hand over the valuable artefacts from Palmyra to the Islamic State.”

According to Mr. Masad, many historical artefacts were also stolen by the Islamic State and disappeared on the black market.

Most of the objects brought to the Czech Republic, such as the bronze pin from Ugarit, are made of metal, since the National Museum’s expert specialize in restoring this material.

Photo: National Museum

Petra Korandová, the head of the museum’s restoration department, outlines the next steps in the process, which is expected to take about a year:

“First we have to examine the objects. We will take pictures both under a microscope and in our studios to capture all the details. That will help us to determine how to proceed with their conservation.”

The restoration work, which will also include experts from Syria, is expected to take about a year. But before the valuable items are sent back to their homeland, Czechs will get a chance to see them, says Mr Lukeš:

“We have agreed that the artefacts will not be reserved just for the Syrian public. As soon as the restoration work is completed, we will prepare an exhibition in the historic building of the National Museum. The objects will be displayed there along other items related to cultural heritage in Syria.”

Authors: Ruth Fraňková , Alžběta Havlová
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