#CultureUnderThreat: Before and After Volume II


The Museum of Islamic Art - Cairo, Egypt

Before – The Museum of Islamic Art: © B.O’Kane/Alamy Stock Photo

After – The Museum of Islamic Art: © Cui Xinyu-Xinhua/Alamy Live News: 9 February 2014

The Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo houses one of greatest collections of Islamic works in the world, with over 2,500 artifacts dating from the 7th century CE to the end of the 19th century CE. The museum has 25 galleries and a great diversity of cultural artifacts, including carpets, coins, ceramics, jewelry, manuscripts, marble carvings and rare woodwork.

The museum was originally housed within the ruined Mosque of the Fatimid Caliph al-Hakim, which had been proposed as the site of a new museum in 1881. In the late 19th century, the first gallery furnished in the newly converted museum in the late 19th century held 111 artifacts from a variety of monuments. The collection quickly outgrew its surroundings, and in 1884 a two-floor structure was developed in the courtyard to house the burgeoning collection of Islamic and Arab antiquities. By the late 1890s, the collection again exceeded its new space and the new (and current) building was constructed in a Neo-Mamluk style. The museum was completed in 1902 in the Bab Al-Khalq area of Cairo, where the museum was first located, in the repurposed mosque.

Following a multi-million dollar revision, the museum was severely damaged by a car bomb blast that took place on January 24, 2014. The bomb was believed to target the police headquarters across the street from the museum, yet the resulting blast caused irreparable damage to the museum’s artifacts and façade.



The Great Omari Mosque - Jabaliya, Gaza

Before – The Great Omari Mosque: Mohammed Alafrangi/ Wikimedia Commons: 7 November 2007

After – The Great Omari Mosque: © Celestino Arce-ZUMA Wire-ZUMAPRESS.com/ Alamy Live News: 1 October 2014

The Great Omari Mosque (also known as the Great Mosque of Gaza) serves as one of the most important mosques in Gaza. The historic religious structure was named after the second caliph Umar bin Al-Khattab and erected in 649 CE. The Great Omari Mosque is both the largest and oldest mosque in the entire Gaza strip.

The site of the mosque has a storied history of multiple religions and conflict. It first served as a Philistine temple; later transitioning to a Byzantine church during the 5th century CE. After the Muslim conquest during the 7th century CE, the church then transformed into a mosque, which stood for more than 400 years until the minaret of the mosque was lost in an earthquake in 1033 CE. The Crusaders then used the site as a dedicated cathedral to John the Baptist in 1149 CE, which was later destroyed, in 1187 CE, by the Ayyubids. A mosque was again built on the site in the early 13th century CE by the Mamluks, destroyed shortly after by the Mongols in 1260 CE, rebuilt again after the Mongols, and then ruined by another earthquake during the late 13th century CE.

The more recent history of the mosque has also been marked the ravages of conflict. After its final rebuild during the Ottoman era, the Great Omari Mosque was extensively damaged during World War I by British aerial bombardment. The structure was restored in 1925 and stood strong for nearly a century following its reconstruction.

On August 2, 2014, the mosque was completely destroyed by Israeli military rocket strikes during the Israel-Gaza conflict of summer 2014.



Tal Afar Citadel - Tal Afar, Iraq

Before – Tal Afar Citadel: Kparker84/Wikimedia Commons :21 October 2007

After – Tal Afar Citadel: Twitter @IraqiSuryani: 30 January 2015

The Tal Afar Citadel is located in the Nineveh Governorate of Iraq. The site of the citadel houses remains of structures dating back to the Assyrian period, though the citadel itself was constructed during the Ottoman Empire.

The Tal Afar Citadel’s history is not confined to its ancient use. More recently, it served as a base of political operations and the headquarters of local officials and police following the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. Although it was a locus of operations during the Iraq War, it was not subject to severe conflict damage or destruction during that time.

In December 2014, following the Daesh capture of areas across the Nineveh Governorate, the site was destroyed in an act of cultural cleansing as Daesh used explosives that razed the walls of the ancient site.


Mosque of Imam Yahya ibn al-Qasim - Mosul, Iraq

Before – Mausoleum of Imam Yahya ibn al-Qasim: Yasser Tabbaa, Courtesy of the Yasser Tabbaa Archive, Aga Khan Documentation Center at MIT: 1980s

After – Mausoleum of Imam Yahya ibn al-Qasim: Screen grab from militant propaganda video via Gates of Nineveh Blog: 2015

The Mausoleum of Imam Yahya ibn al-Qasim, located on the bank of the Tigris River in Mosul, Iraq, was built in 1229 CE by Mosul’s Shia ruler Badr al-Din Lulu. The mausoleum was constructed using baked bricks which formed its distinctive architecture: a square base, an octagonal drum and a pyramidal roof.

The 900-year-old site features intricate decorations lining its entrances and rich geometric patterns filling the interior. The exterior of the site includes two large buttresses that help prevent the structure from falling into the adjacent Tigris River.

The ancient mausoleum that stood for nearly a millennium was completely leveled by Daesh explosives in August of 2014 following their takeover of Mosul.



Mausoleum of Murad Agha - Tajura, Libya

Before – Mausoleum of Murad Agha: History of Libya Facebook Page

After – Mausoleum of Murad Agha: © epa european pressphoto agency b.v./ Alamy Stock Photo: 27 November 2013

The Mausoleum of Murad Agha, one of the oldest in Tajura, Libya, was renowned for its intricate architecture.

Murad Agha reigned from 1551-1553 CE as the first Ottoman governor of Tripoli, Libya. A shrine and attached mosque were built in his name in Tajura during the mid 15th century CE.

On November 27, 2013, the historic mausoleum became the target of extremists. The shrine was lined with explosives which were detonated, leaving a pile of rubble behind and fears that the mosque structure was also damaged in the attack. The bombing came in the wake of a series of ongoing incidents of heritage destruction that has plagued Libya since January 2012, according to UNESCO.


Mizran Mosque - Tripoli, Libya

Before – Mizran Mosque: Creative Commons/Facebook

After – Mizran Mosque: Creative Commons/Facebook: 16 March 2016

The Mizran Mosque, located in the historic quarter of Tripoli, was built in the 19th century CE. Before the mosque was erected, the area it served as a small village outside the walls of Tripoli.

The Mizran Mosque, like many located in Tripoli, is a Sufi site. Its Sufi traditions have made it a target of Salafist and other extremist attacks following the 2011 Arab Spring. The first attacks on the site occurred in 2014 when vandals destroyed the tiled calligraphy panels lining the walls of the mosque.

On March 16, 2016, Salafist extremists detonated a bomb within the Mizran Mosque, destroying the structure and reducing its walls to rubble. This follows a trend of deliberate destruction of Sufi sites across Libya that began following the 2011 Arab Spring.



Temple of Baalshamin - Palmyra, Syria

Before – Temple of Baalshamin: Varun Shiv Kapur: 26 December 2010

After – Temple of Baalshamin: Militant Social Media Account: 2015

The Temple of Baalshamin is located at the UNESCO World Heritage site of Palmyra in Syria. The temple is primarily a Caanan and Pagan site that dates back to the 2nd century CE. The altar of the temple was built in 115 CE and the temple was later substantially rebuilt in 131 CE.

This temple is a remarkable symbol of ancient globalization and cross-cultural interaction, combining Roman-inspired architecture with elements of Syrian style; Corinthian patterns indicating Egyptian influence; and inscriptions in Greek and Palmyrene.

In the summer of 2015 on an unknown date between July and August, the famous temple was completely leveled by an incident of cultural cleansing. The terrorist organization Daesh (also known as ISIS) used explosives to destroy the 2,000-year-old site.


Al Madina Souq - Aleppo, Syria

Before – Al Madina Souq: Fulvia Spada: 4 October 2010

After – Al Madina Souq: Sustainable Cities Collective: Unknown date after 2012

The Al Madina Souq in the city center of Aleppo is a 14th century CE market. It is the largest covered market in the world. The size and prominence of the souq signify the site’s strategic trading location as a post for goods from places as far away as India.

The Al Madina Souq is home to dozens of souqs and khans built between the 14th and 17th centuries CE, both within and connected to the major souq.

The Al Madina Souq is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Ancient City of Aleppo, which has suffered significant damage since the start of the Syrian Civil War in 2011. The souq itself has suffered irreparable damage as a result of the ongoing conflict in Syria. Barrel bombs, shelling, and other means of weaponry have devastated the more than 700-year-old site as the Syrian regime and opposition groups have grappled for control of Aleppo.


Tel Mari Archaeological Site - Tel Mari, Syria

Before – Tel Mari Archaeological Site: Google Earth DigitalGlobe: 2011

After – Tel Mari Archaeological Site: DigitalGlobe Image via #CultureUnderThreat Smart M.App: 2016

Tel Mari (also known as Tel Hariri) is an ancient archaeological site in Syria dating back nearly 5,000 years to 2,900 BCE. For more than a millennium, the ancient city served as a trade center and hegemonic state. Its strategic location along trade routes connecting Sumeria in the east and the Levant in the west allowed the city to flourish as a trade center.

After the city’s first abandonment in 2,500 BCE, Tel Mari was rebuilt and regained strength as a Sumerian stronghold – only to be destroyed by the Akkadians 300 years later. Like many trade cities in the ancient world, the site served as a nexus of globalization for centuries. Although the architecture of the site represents its Sumerian roots, both Semitic and Sumerian deities were worshipped at Tel Mari and worshipers at the site spoke an Eblaite dialect of Semitic.

The deeply significant history of Tel Mari earned recognition by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1999. Yet since the Syrian conflict began, following the 2011 Arab Spring, Tel Mari and its rich archaeological heritage have been ravaged by looting and illicit digging. The illegal excavation has continued through 2016 by unknown parties involved in the conflict, who are turning this once pristine example of ancient cultural crossroads into a pothole-ravaged landscape.


Temple of Bel - Palmyra, Syria

Before – Temple of Bel: Google Earth: 2004 

After – Temple of Bel: DigitalGlobe Image from #CultureUnderThreat Smart M.App: 2016

The Temple of Bel is located at the UNESCO World Heritage site of Palmyra in Syria. The temple, initially built to worship the Mesopotamian god Bel, dates back to the 1st century CE. Over time, the temple was a site of worship to a myriad of gods. In addition to the gods of Mesopotamia, the temple also paid homage to uniquely Palmyrene gods Aglibol the lunar god, and Yarhibol the sun god.

Although the temple was dedicated in 32 CE, the location it was built on dates back more than three millennia of human occupation. After its initial dedication, the temple was modified several times during the Byzantine Era, the site was converted into a Christian church. Later, in 1132 CE, it was modified by the Arabs and remained in use as an active mosque until the early 20th century CE.

Through all of its conquests and modifications, the Temple of Bel always remained intact – until the site of Palmyra was captured by the terror group Daesh in 2015. On August 30, 2015, the ancient temple, which was significant to and in use by multiple cultures and religions for 2,000 years, was leveled using explosives by Daesh as part of their campaign of cultural cleansing.



Mausoleum in Sidi Bou Said - Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia

Before – Mausoleum in Sidi Bou Said: Leaders.com.tn

After – Mausoleum in Sidi Bou Said: Farah Mestiri/Wikimedia Commons: 2013

The Mausoleum in Sidi Bou Said is located in the coastal town of Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia on the outskirts of Tunis, an area that serves as one of the country’s tourism hot spots.

The town and mausoleum are named for the local saint Sidi Bou Said, who was believed to have settled in the area between the 12th and 13th centuries CE. During his time in the region, he became a respected marabout or holy man.

Tunisia suffered significant instability following the January 2011 Arab Spring, which led to the ouster of Tunisian President Ben Ali. Sufi shrines and mosques across the country became frequent targets of attacks by the country’s extremist Salafists. On January 13, 2013, the Mausoleum in Sidi Bou Said fell victim to extremist destruction when a group of unknown Salafists set fire to the historic mausoleum, completely destroying the interior of the holy site.



Dhamar Museum - Dhamar, Yemen

Before – Dhamar Museum: News of Yemen: Unknown date between 2002-June 2015

After – Dhamar Museum: News of Yemen: 22 June 2015

The Dhamar Museum in Dhamar, Yemen served as the primary museum for the Dhamar governorate. The museum housed a collection of more than 12,000 artifacts dating back thousands of years including Himyarite period and pre-Islamic antiquities, dedicatory stelae and artifacts resulting from the excavation work by the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute from 1978 and onward.

The museum’s impressive Islamic collection included ornamented artifacts bearing Arabic inscriptions, precious jewels from the Islamic period, as well as local traditional Islamic handicrafts. However, the museum’s most important artifact was the 1,700-year-old Minbar (a sacred wooden pulpit). The Minbar was from the Great Mosque of Dhamar city, dated to the 4th century CE Hegira.

On June 18, 2015, the Dhamar Museum was completely obliterated by Saudi Arabian Air Force strikes as part of the Yemeni Civil War. Starting in in 2015, the Yemeni Civil War has drawn involvement from Saudi-led coalition forces in their attempt to restore the Hadi Government.


Old City of Sana’a Medina - Sana’a, Yemen

Before – Old City of Sana’a Medina: Alex Potter: 12 June 2015

After – Old City of Sana’a Medina: Alex Potter: Unknown date before 12 June 2015

The Old City of Sana’a, which sits in a mountain valley at 2,200m altitude in Yemen, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site dating back to the 11th century CE. Medieval and Islamic scholars, historians and travelers have linked Sana’a to the civilizations of the Bible and Quran. Although Sana’a has been occupied for more than 2,500 years, its city-level status began around the 2nd century BCE when it served as a post for Yemenite kingdoms and quickly emerged as a nexus of trade in the 1st century CE.

Yet, some of the most famous elements of the city, including the unique architectural styles found in the Old City’s Medina, emerged in the 11th century CE. The architectural designs in the Medina are distinctive in their geometric designs laid within patterns of fired bricks and white gypsum accents.

Since the Saudi-led coalition involvement in the Yemen Civil War that began in 2015, the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Old City of Sana’a has been the repeated target of Saudi airstrikes. On May 13, 2015, these Medina buildings were struck and destroyed.