Published: Thursday, 20 March 2014 00:00
German Federal Foreign Office from 13.03.2014 (Publisher)
Prior to the outbreak of the civil war, Syria boasted one of the world’s most exceptional cultural landscapes. A joint project of the German Archaeological Institute, the Museum of Islamic Art in Berlin, and the Federal Foreign Office aims to ensure that Syrian cultural heritage is not forgotten, thanks to the digitisation of databases.
Amid dramatic news reports about the Syrian civil war, the fact that Syria has one of the world’s most important cultural landscapes is often forgotten. Many of mankind’s fundamental achievements, such as the origin of agriculture, or that of urban societies, can be traced back to this region, which was densely populated in antiquity.
The present-day conflict, which has brought destruction and looting, poses a massive and existential threat to this unique cultural heritage. Another pervasive problem is the illegal sale to buyers abroad of historical objects taken from unprotected museums and freely-accessible cultural monuments.
To protect and preserve monuments, other countries such as Germany maintain cultural heritage registers. As of yet, there is no such system for documenting Syrian cultural heritage. Systematic registration and cataloguing of information about Syrian cultural heritage are absolutely required to preserve it, to enable possible future reconstruction efforts, and to combat illegal trade in such objects.
Strengthening the protection of cultural heritage and enabling reconstruction:
That is why, in November of 2013, the German Archaeological Institute, in cooperation with the Museum of Islamic Art in Berlin, launched the Syrian Heritage Archive Project, which involves digitising these institutions’ archives. The project is funded by the Federal Foreign Office.
Thanks to many years of research in Syria, both institutions have very large databases.
The digital archive is meant to enhance protection of cultural heritage and to enable reconstruction efforts at a later date. Since the new archive is designed as an open data platform, it can one day be handed over to Syria. This will not prevent valuable cultural heritage from falling victim to the civil war.
However, it is an attempt to enhance cultural heritage protection and to establish a basis on which work can be conducted after the conflict ends.
For more information (Last updated 13.03.2014):
The Syrian Heritage Archive Project (DAI website)
Creating a digital cultural heritage register for Syria (MIK website)
Federal Foreign Office program for preserving cultural heritage
An overview of the situation in Syria