THE ANTIQUITIES MUSEUM OF PALMYRA:
Rediscovered during the 17th century, the city of Palmyra used to be an important stop off the caravan road that linked the Mediterranean Sea to the old Indian and Chinese world. During the Roman era (Syria was taken over by Pompeo in 64 BC), the city flourished thanks to its commercial activity. Due to its geographical situation at the crossroads between the Roman empire and the Parthian empire (current Iran), it was a real “gateway to the desert” while keeping its relative independence from the Roman administration.
Spices, silk, precious stones coming from Far East circulate durably in Palmyra. As the city embellished, the local aristocratic families got richer. They developed a taste for luxury and the exotic, while adopting a lifestyle close to the one fashionable in Rome. The Palmyrene art evolved simultaneously: while keeping its owns characteristics, it presents a growing syncretism between Roman art and local art.
Considered a real treasure, Palmyra’s museum of antiquities exhibited a great number of its beautiful antic artifacts, reflective of the extreme ability of Palmyrene craftsmen. It contained the finest stone sculptures, statues, busts of leading Palmyrene figures, oil lamps and other mosaics. Most of those objects come from graves of important families. The city was indeed famous for the quality of its funeral art.
Entering the city of Palmyra in May 2015, ISIS’ fighters progressively destructed its museum. Even though a great number of artefacts had been previously moved into a safe place by the members of the DGAM (Syrian Directory of Antiquities) some pieces, as the Romano Byzantium sarcophagi in high relief weighting three to four tons, were too heavy to be carried.
After Palmyra was taken back by the Syrian army, the intervention of Iconem’s team on the site was required as soon as possible. The procedure needed the museum to be entirely cleared out in three days to secure the remaining art work. Yet, the exceptional conditions of Palmyra’s museum of antiquities, devastated, needed to be documented. The documents produced by our teams will be subject to a scientific interpretation, which will try to recreate the dramatic sequence of events that happened in the museum.
On the field, Iconem’s team worked with archeologists and architects from the DGAM. By putting into action our camera’s shooting protocol in the museum, the two teams were able to collect a large volume of data in a limited amount of time.
Thanks to these data, a 3D model of a part of the museum’s rooms, was produced. It shows fragments of relics of the museum mixed with the chunks of the celling, that collapsed after an explosion. Some part of the ground and a section of a wall were also destroyed by a missile.
All of the produced documents will be integrated in a 3D database that will indicate, for all the artifacts found on site, their initial location in the museum, where they were destroyed and especially where they were found. This information will help repositioning the objects back to their initial spot once they are restored, and to document the destructions perpetuated.
THE DIGITAL "REBIRTH" OF PALMYRA'S LION
Real Masterpiece of Palmyra’s museum the “Lion of AL-Lât” or “Athena’s Lion” was destroyed with a power shovel from ISIS’ fighters. The sculpture, 3,5 meter high and weighting 15 tons, was placed at the entrance of the museum, and could not be moved to a secured place by ISIS’ arrival because of its size.
Discovered in 1977 and dated from the 1st century AD the lion used to be in the heart of Al-Lât temple, fertility and feminity goddess, protector of wild animals. It was described as holding an oryx in his paws.
Thanks to the digitalization of a replica kept in Damascus’ museum, allowing to document the initial state of the sculpture. Iconem took in charge its digital safeguard. Our team proceeded to the digitalization of Palmyra’s Lion as it was destroyed by ISIS’ soldiers and realized a 3D model. The comparison of the two models will allow scientists to study the damages endured by the sculpture and to proceed to restorations that should be started by the researchers of Damascus’ museum.
During a second mission in Syria in July 2016, our team witnessed the transportation of the sculpture from Palmyra to Damascus under the direction of the DGAM. The quick transfer of this Palmyrene masterpiece was essential as Palmyra’s region is not yet considered a secured one. The operation was complex because of the size of the lion and the lack of appropriate means. After numerous hours on the rough road, it was necessary to change one of the truck’s wheels, that was flat due to the weight of its load. But in the end it was a success: today the Lion is in the garden of Damascus’ museum, waiting for its restoration.