How the catastrophe in Syria has turned into a disaster for science

The civil war in Syria is now well into its 18th month, and with it, it has now claimed the lives of over 30,000 people. And as if this conflict wasn't tragic enough, the scope of the fighting has extended to the ancient city of Aleppo and its UNESCO designated world heritage sites. Sadly, reports came in last week that the gorgeous Souk al-Madina Market — an important archaeological and historical site that dates back to the 14th century — has been burnt to the ground. It's yet another brutal reminder of how devastating wars can be to all facets of human life.

The now-destroyed market is only one of several places that UNESCO, the United Nations cultural agency, has been working to protect in Syria. Disturbingly, however, UNESCO has received reports that five of Syria's six world heritage sites have already been damaged — including the ancient desert city of Palmyra, the Crac des Chevaliers crusader fortress, and parts of old Damascus.

How the catastrophe in Syria has turned into a disaster for scienceS

The Al-Madina Souq was located in the heart of Aleppo within the walls of its ancient districts. It was known for its long and vaulted narrow alleys (over 13 kilometers worth), its intracately carved wooden facades, and its 1,500 shops — making it the world's largest covered market and a popular tourist attraction.

It was designated a UNESCO heritage site in 1986 for its "rare and authentic Arab architectural styles" and its testimony to the city's cultural, social, and technological development from the Mameluke period.

Back in the 14th century, it was was a major trade center for imported luxury goods, including raw silk from Iran and spices and dyes from India. It also served as trading hub that networked all the way to China. More recently, it was a focal area for the development of wool, agricultural products, and soap.

How the catastrophe in Syria has turned into a disaster for scienceS

Distressed by the destruction of the market, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova warned all combative parties of Syria's obligations under the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, to which it is a signatory. "The human suffering caused by this situation is already extreme," she noted through their official statement. "That the fighting is now destroying cultural heritage that bears witness to the country's millenary history — valued and admired the world over — makes it even more tragic."

This has not been a good year for UNESCO. Earlier this year, shrines in Timbuktu were destroyed by Islamist rebels. The tombs dated back to the 12th century.

Other sources: Reuters.

Images: gray-um.com/photos, euronews.