Feature: Sandbags protect priceless paintings in Syria's Idlib museum

Source: Xinhua| 2020-07-16 21:36:41|Editor: huaxia

Damaged buildings are seen at Maarat al-Numan Museum in Idlib province, northwestern Syria on Feb. 18, 2020. (Photo by Ammar Safarjalani/Xinhua)

MAARAT AL-NUMAN, Syria, July 16 (Xinhua) -- In Maarat al-Numan museum in Syria's Idlib province, sandbags are used to protect historic mosaic paintings that date back to the second century.

Maarat al-Numan, the second-largest city in the countryside of Idlib province in northwestern Syria, has seen the intense military showdown between the Syrian army and an array of rebel groups.

As Idlib is the last major rebel stronghold in the country, the intensity of the battles is obvious. Following intense battles, the army captured the city of Maarat al-Numan in January.

The Maarat al-Numan museum is one of the city's landscapes as the building itself is a historic one that was built in the 16th century as a hotel for travelers at first before becoming a museum.

The museum is largely damaged, but when entering the big halls, sandbags are placed on top of one another. The historic treasures of the mosaic paintings, which date back between the second and seventh century, are hidden behind the sandbags.

Some paintings were largely covered with sandbags while others were half exposed.

For officials, the most important items in the museum are the mosaic paintings, as their damage is irreparable.

Ghazzy Alolo, archeology manager of Idlib, told Xinhua at the museum that things got out of control in 2012 when the rebels were spreading in Idlib.

He said that small artifacts were moved into basements while the mosaic paintings were protected with the help of the local community, as young men in Maarat al-Numan helped in placing the sandbags on the mosaic paintings.

Alolo noted that the biggest damage has befallen the glass pieces as a result of the shelling and battles while the potteries were less damaged.

When entering the museum for the first time after the army retook Maarat al-Numan, Alolo said he was happy that the paintings were largely safe and sound.

"With the help of the local community of Maarat al-Numan and some of the workers in the antiquities department, we protected these paintings and hid them by using sandbags," he said.

Alolo added that they also covered the paintings "with a layer of fabric and that's why these paintings became isolated and protected from bombings that took place in the museum or nearby areas."

Alolo pointed out that the museum has been largely damaged and is in urgent need of reparation.

"The building was seriously damaged. Some walls and corridors cracked, and there are holes in the ceilings. So this building needs an emergency operation to salvage it and repair what was destroyed," he remarked.

Restoration can be done with local expertise and Syria has trained teams to fix the damage, the manager said, adding that the damage has been documented for the search of solutions.

"Restoration can be done as we have expertise and capabilities," he said, pointing out that if the paintings were damaged, there is no way to restore them.

"So these sandbags protected the largest chunk of the mosaic paintings in the museum," Alolo noted. Enditem 

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