Russia and Syria have signed an agreement declaring their intention to work together to restore the ancient city of Palmyra, which was gravely damaged by ISIS during the militant group’s occupation of the area between 2015 and 2017. Both the State Hermitage Museum and the Institute of the History of Material Culture of the Russian Academy of Sciences signed pacts with Syria’s Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums (DGAM) in Damascus on November 25.
The countries are planning to launch an international campaign in support of the regeneration of the UNESCO World Heritage site, which is famous for its Greco-Roman ruins, and to form a committee of international experts to help address the city’s conservation and preservation needs, which will operate under the cultural agency’s direction. While the long-term goals include restoring at least twenty Syrian artifacts to the site, the initiative will first focus on rebuilding the National Museum of Palmyra. In a statement, the Hermitage called the partnerships “a tangible step in the significant development of museum and research ties between Russia and Syria.”
ISIS first seized Palmyra in May 2015. The Syrian government successfully expelled the group in March 2016, but ISIS gained control of the city again in December of that year. After two more years of fighting, the Syrian Army retook the site in March of 2017. During its occupation of Palmyra, the terrorist group publicly executed Khaled al-Asaad, the Syrian archaeologist who oversaw the site for decades, and destroyed some of the city’s best-preserved ruins, including the Temple of Bel, the Temple of Baalshamin, and the Arch of Triumph.