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Photographs of the Ruins of Palmyra Now Threatened by the Islamic State

Palmyra is home to some of the world's best-preserved ruins.

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By virtue of sitting at the crossroads of several ancient civilizations, the Syrian city of Palmyra houses some of the world’s most spectacular ruins, temples and colonnades that combine the styles of Greco-Roman architecture and Persian influences. Now, that city has fallen to the Islamic State militant group, raising fears that the group will destroy one of the richest sites of Syria’s cultural heritage.

“I am deeply concerned by the situation at the site of Palmyra. The fighting is putting at risk one of the most significant sites in the Middle East, and its civilian population,” Irina Bokova, the director-general of UNESCO, said in a statement.

After conquering large parts of eastern Syria and western Iraq, Islamic State fighters have frequently destroyed ancient artifacts, destroying, for example, centuries-old antiquities in Mosul after it seized that city. “We do not care, even if they cost billions of dollars,” a militant said as he and his colleagues pushed statues off their pedestals.

In anticipation of Islamic State militants seizing the city, Syrian officials have reportedly been moving some smaller artifacts out of Palmyra, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but the massive ruins obviously cannot be transported anywhere. Much like Taliban militants famously destroyed Afghanistan’s massive mountainside Buddhas, these monuments might also fall victim to this violent ideology, which views such representations of religious thought as idolatrous. The Islamic State is reportedly in full control of the city, but there have so far been no reports of destruction of the ruins.

Here, then, is a brief photographic tour through the ruins of Palmyra, which give some impression as to why the place has become so beloved among historians, archeologists, and tourists.

(Click the photographs for larger versions.)

A view of the Roman theater at Palmyra:

A picture taken on March 14, 2014 shows a partial view of the theatre at the ancient oasis city of Palmyra, 215 kilometres northeast of Damascus. From the 1st to the 2nd century, the art and architecture of Palmyra, standing at the crossroads of several civilizations, married Graeco-Roman techniques with local traditions and Persian influences. AFP PHOTO/JOSEPH EID        (Photo credit should read JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images)

Below are several views of the famous colonnade that anchors the city of Palmyra and other ruins.

A picture taken on March 14, 2014 shows the citadel (background) of the ancient oasis city of Palmyra, 215 kilometres northeast of Damascus, over looking the city. From the 1st to the 2nd century, the art and architecture of Palmyra, standing at the crossroads of several civilizations, married Graeco-Roman techniques with local traditions and Persian influences. AFP PHOTO/JOSEPH EID        (Photo credit should read JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images)

A picture taken on March 14, 2014 shows a partial view of the ancient oasis city of Palmyra, 215 kilometres northeast of Damascus. From the 1st to the 2nd century, the art and architecture of Palmyra, standing at the crossroads of several civilizations, married Graeco-Roman techniques with local traditions and Persian influences. AFP PHOTO/JOSEPH EID        (Photo credit should read JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images)

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A picture taken on March 14, 2014 shows a partial view of the ancient oasis city of Palmyra, 215 kilometres northeast of Damascus. From the 1st to the 2nd century, the art and architecture of Palmyra, standing at the crossroads of several civilizations, married Graeco-Roman techniques with local traditions and Persian influences. AFP PHOTO/JOSEPH EID        (Photo credit should read JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images)

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The external courtyard of Palmyra’s most famous temple:

A picture taken on March 14, 2014 shows the external courtyard of the sanctuary of Baal in the ancient oasis city of Palmyra, 215 kilometres northeast of Damascus. From the 1st to the 2nd century, the art and architecture of Palmyra, standing at the crossroads of several civilizations, married Graeco-Roman techniques with local traditions and Persian influences. AFP PHOTO/JOSEPH EID        (Photo credit should read JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images)

Several ancient artifacts from Palmyra:

A picture taken on March 14, 2014 shows a sculpture found in the ancient Syrian oasis city of Palmyra, 215 kilometres northeast of Damascus, and now displayed at the city's museum. From the 1st to the 2nd century, the art and architecture of Palmyra, standing at the crossroads of several civilizations, married Graeco-Roman techniques with local traditions and Persian influences. AFP PHOTO/JOSEPH EID        (Photo credit should read JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images)

A picture taken on March 14, 2014 shows a sculpture found in the ancient Syrian oasis city of Palmyra, 215 kilometres northeast of Damascus, and now displayed at the city's museum. From the 1st to the 2nd century, the art and architecture of Palmyra, standing at the crossroads of several civilizations, married Graeco-Roman techniques with local traditions and Persian influences. AFP PHOTO/JOSEPH EID        (Photo credit should read JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images)

A picture taken on March 14, 2014 shows a sculpture depicting a rich family from the ancient Syrian oasis city of Palmyra, 215 kilometres northeast of Damascus, displayed at the city's museum. From the 1st to the 2nd century, the art and architecture of Palmyra, standing at the crossroads of several civilizations, married Graeco-Roman techniques with local traditions and Persian influences. AFP PHOTO/JOSEPH EID        (Photo credit should read JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images)

The photograph below shows a camel caravan moving through Palmyra in the 1930s.

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JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images 

Elias Groll is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @EliasGroll

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