7 April 2016
If Isis came to your city and asked you to tell them where the treasure was buried under pain of death, would you disobey?
Khaled al-Asaad was head of antiquities in Palmyra, the most fabulous Roman city left standing on earth. For forty years he had looked after and enhanced this extraordinary site. When he heard Isis was heading for the city, he spent the forty-eight hours available to him hiding as many of the ancient objects in his museum as he could. When Isis came, they gave him the choice - tell us where they are hidden or we will kill you. He wouldn't tell them, so they beheaded him and crucified his body. He wouldn't kneel as ordered - he said he would fall standing, like an old palm tree in Palmyra.
When I visited Palmyra in 2010, walking into the Temple of Bel was one of the very greatest moments of my life. To actually walk into such an extraordinarly well preserved temple built during the reign of Emporer Tiberious was mind-blowing. I had the privilage to spend a long hour walking in and around it. The temple no longer exists. It was blown up by Isis. As was another temple, the triumphal arch and all the incredible burial towers.
We will be in debt to Khaled al-Asaad for the rest of time. He saved so many extraordinary treasures for the world, for us. And the city lives on. About eighty percent of it remains standing and with it, Khaled al-Asaad's name lives on too.
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