DAMASCUS – Jihadist militants from Islamic State (IS) have blown up three funerary towers at the ancient city of Palmyra, Syria’s antiquities chief has said.
Maamoun Abdul Karim said they included the Tower Of Elahbel, built in AD103 and one of the best preserved.
The multistorey sandstone monuments, standing outside the city walls in an area known as the Valley Of The Tombs, belonged to rich Palmyrene families.
Their demolition comes only days after IS blew up Palmyra’s two main temples.
The group, which captured the UNESCO World Heritage site from government forces in May, has previously destroyed two Islamic shrines –– those of a Shia saint and Sufi scholar –– near Palmyra, which they described as “manifestations of polytheism”.
The Valley Of The Tombs, in the hills to the south and west of the ruins of the Greco-Roman city, contains a series of funerary towers of various sizes.
The towers were divided into compartments, or loculi, into which sarcophagi were placed before being sealed with slabs of stone carved with an image of the deceased and painted in lively colours.
Site contains monumental ruins of great city, once one of the most important cultural centres of the ancient world
Art and architecture, from the first and second centuries, combine Greco-Roman techniques with local traditions and Persian influences.
More than 1,000 columns, a Roman aqueduct and a formidable necropolis of more than 500 tombs made up the archaeological site.
More than 150,000 tourists visited Palmyra every year before the Syrian conflict.
The Tower Of Elahbel was among the most prominent. It was four storeys high and could purportedly accommodate up to 300 sarcophagi.
Abdul Karim told the AFP news agency that he had received reports ten days ago that the “best preserved and most beautiful” towers had been blown up, but only just confirmed the news.
“We obtained satellite images from the US-based Syrian Heritage Initiative, taken on September 2,”
On Tuesday, satellite images confirmed reports that IS had destroyed the Temple Of Bel, which the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) said was one of the most important religious edifices of the first century
in the East.