Connect with us

DailyArtMagazine.com – Art History Stories

Khaled al-Asaad — The Hero of Palmyra

The ruins of Palmyra in Syria. Photograph by JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty. Source: The New Yorker.

Special Occasion And News

Khaled al-Asaad — The Hero of Palmyra

Five years ago on August 18, 2015, the world-renowned Palmyran expert Khaled al-Asaad was brutally murdered by the Islamic State (ISIS) after weeks of torture. Shortly before ISIS took over his hometown of Tadmur, al-Asaad had helped move many priceless artifacts out of Syria to safeguard their legacy for generations to come. Five years later, the world continues to mourn the loss of this distinguished scholar, who has been hailed as the Hero of Palmyra.

Khalid al Assad
Khaled al-Asaad in front of a rare sarcophagus from Palmyra depicting two priests dating from the first century., ca. 2002. Photograph: Marc Deville/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images / Source: The Guardian.

Early Beginnings of Khaled al-Asaad

Khaled al-Asaad was born in Syria in 1932, less than a mile from the ancient Roman city of Palmyra. His fascination with the history of his hometown started early in his childhood and led him to an education in history at the University of Damascus. He was influenced by the Roman philosopher Cicero’s quote – “to be ignorant of the past is to remain a child.” In 1963, al-Asaad was appointed as the principal custodian of the Palmyra site.

Khalid al Assad
Ruins of the Grand Colonnade. Palmyra, Syria © Shawn McCullars/ Source: Encyclopaedia Britannica

The restoration of Palmyra remained the primary focus of al-Asaad’s career of over 40 years. He facilitated many archaeological expeditions and promoted their discoveries in international symposiums all over the world. Al-Asaad also mastered Palmyrene Aramaic and translated countless texts found in the excavations. He wrote several books and treatises on the history of the civilization and is rightly credited with the elevation of Palmyra as a UNESCO world heritage site and an important center for international cultural tourism in the Middle East.

Palmyra was more than a job to him, his devotion was absolute. He even named one of his daughters Zenobia, after the well-known Palmyrene queen.

Herbert Gustav Schmalz, Queen Zenobia’s Last Look Upon Palmyra, ca. 1888. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The Legacy of Palmyra

Palmyra was once a sprawling metropolis that was made possible by an oasis. It was located at the crossroads of the ancient world connecting Rome, Persia, Arabia, and China. Although the earliest reference to the city has been traced to the 2nd millennium BC, it was under Roman occupation in the 1st century that Palmyra reached its peak of development. Several important structures were added under Roman patronage, including the Temple of Bel, the Temple of Baalshamin, and the Great Colonnade. The city started to decline after the 3rd century AD and was eventually reduced to a small village amidst the grand ruins. The remains of Palmyra were rediscovered most recently in the 18th century.

Bust of a man in limestone, Roman Provincial Imperial Period, ca. A.D. 100–150, Palmyra, Syria © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA, USA.

Takeover by ISIS

Al-Asaad was 83 years old and retired when ISIS took over his hometown of Tadmur. Though many urged him to flee, he refused to do so, counting on his advanced years to spare him from the cruelty of the brutal occupiers. He was first arrested by ISIS for a few days in May 2015 and again in August 2015. The second time, he was mercilessly tortured by his captors who were trying to determine the whereabouts of Palmyrene artifacts.

Under the fanatical interpretation of Islam practiced by ISIS and its followers, the Roman statues were deemed ‘heretical’ and destroyed. It is also possible that ISIS was interested in these artifacts for their high monetary value in the black market for antiquities.

Syrian government soldiers at the Temple of Bel in Palmyra © Sergey Ponomarev/ The New York Times.

The Atrocities of ISIS

After refusing to cooperate with his captors, Khaled al-Asaad was publicly beheaded in the city of his lifelong devotion. His body was hung from a column and his severed head was placed beneath the dangling feet of his corpse. A placard hanging over his chest listed his perceived “crimes” of representing Syria at “infidel conferences,” serving as “the director of idolatry” in Palmyra, of visiting “Heretic Iran” and of being an “apostate.”

Khaled al-Asaad, The Hero of Palmyra

Khalid al Assad
Khaled al-Asaad. Source: The Independent

Despite the brutal end met by this great scholar, we at DailyArt Magazine honor Khaled al-Asaad for his utmost devotion to history and the arts, and for his incredible sacrifice.  His death was a huge blow to the community of Syria, Palmyra, and art history scholars worldwide. May he never be forgotten.


Read also The Art of Mihrab – little masterpieces of Islamic art.

Art, history, mythology, and dachshund enthusiast from New Delhi, based in Los Angeles.

Comments

More in Special Occasion And News

  • 20th century

    Where is Ana Mendieta? The Unresolved Mystery

    By

    “Where is Ana Mendieta?” was the question shouted in 1992 by over 500 protesters lined in front of the newly opened Guggenheim Museum site in SoHo, New York (closed nowadays). The inaugural show featured the work of five men and one woman, all white, which already...

  • Maurizio Cattelan, America, Solomon Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2016. Source: www.guggenheim.org. Maurizio Cattelan, America, Solomon Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2016. Source: www.guggenheim.org.

    20th century

    Weird & Bizarre: A Toilet as a Work of Art

    By

    A joke, a provocation, or an attempt to attract your attention? Maybe none of these or maybe all of them. Here are the three of the most renowned toilets in the history of art. They may make you feel strange, uncomfortable, shocked, angry, or even disgusted....

  • Baroque

    Art in the Netflix TV Series Dark

    By

    On the 27th of June Netflix released the long-awaited third and final season of Dark. The German series, co-created by Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese, has been a great success, but SPOILER ALERT: if you haven’t already watched it, do so before reading about art...

  • dailyart

    An Animated Cabinet of Curiosities – The Best Art GIFs

    By

    What happens when old paintings, photos, illustrations and posters which are available digitally are shared with digital artists to play with and create animated GIFs? Visit this animated cabinet of curiosities to find out. These weird and bizarre animations created from digitised cultural heritage content will...

  • Art Forms

    Delftware 101 – The Brilliant Face of the Dutch Golden Age

    By

    When we think of the Netherlands, a few characteristic things come to mind; tulips, windmills, orange cheese and painted clogs to name but a few. However, we think there is a nobler Dutch craft that we ought to mention. Come with us on a journey into...

To Top

Just to let you know, DailyArt Magazine’s website uses cookies to personalise content and adverts, to provide social media features and to analyse traffic. Read cookies policy