Turkey earthquake before and after: How heritage sites look after devastation

Ancient Gaziantep Castle and Aleppo's Citadel suffer severe damage

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Ancient heritage sites have been destroyed by the earthquake that shook Turkey and Syria on Monday morning.

Many buildings in both countries, which host a wealth of archaeological, cultural and historical treasures, have sustained severe damage.

Concerns are growing that a far greater extent of destruction will become visible once rescue parties access cut-off areas.

Turkey's Roman-era Gaziantep Castle was one of the first monuments to be photographed after the earthquake. Initial images showed rubble strewn across the ramparts with a large section of the outer wall destroyed.

Gaziantep is 80km from Kahramanmaras, the earthquake's epicentre. Many parts of the city, which has a population of two million, were levelled by the quake, which has killed more than 5,000 people.

Subsequent images showed most of the complex still standing.

State news agency Anadolu reported damage to the ancient structure's eastern and southern bastions.

The site was used as an observation station in the Hittite Empire, then later built upon by the Romans in the second and third centuries. Byzantine emperor Justinian I expanded the fortifications and built a dry moat.

The building now hosts the Gaziantep Defence and Heroism Panoramic Museum.

The nearby 17th-century Sirvani Mosque also sustained considerable damage, with its dome and eastern wall partially collapsing.

Aftershocks were impeding rescue and conservation attempts.

Yeni Cami Mosque in the centre of Malatya was severely damaged. The mosque was built on the site of the Haciyusuf Mosque, which was destroyed by an earthquake in 1984, the Daily Sabah reported.

It was restored and reopened last year.

Unesco, the UN's cultural agency, said several buildings had collapsed at the Diyarbakir Fortress and Hevsel Gardens Cultural Landscape, a World Heritage site the organisation has described as “an important centre of the Roman, Sassanid, Byzantine, Islamic and Ottoman periods”.

Other places on the World Heritage List not far from the epicentre could also be affected, such as Gobekli Tepe, Nemrut Dag and Tell of Arslantepe.

“Unesco is mobilising its experts to establish a precise inventory of the damage with the aim of rapidly securing and stabilising these sites,” the organisation said.

One ray of hope amid the devastation may be the coming together of international organisations to rebuild and protect cultural heritage, as happened after the 2020 Beirut blast and during the ongoing Ukraine war, Stephen Stenning, the British Council's Global Director of Culture in Action, told The National.

“This natural disaster will create a whole new level of need to look at the intangible cultural heritage of the peoples affected by the earthquake and also the sites and tangible heritage around it. There is more international co-operation on the area of cultural protection than there has been in the past, but there is the need for a lot more in the future.

“Things like this really draw attention and in a way help with that mission of a collective focus on the need to protect cultural heritage.”

Endangered Syrian sites hit again

In Syria, still more destruction.

Unesco said it was “particularly concerned” about the ancient city of Aleppo, which was already on the List of World Heritage in Danger.

Aleppo's Directorate of Archaeology was inspecting the damage to its citadel and other sites in the city. Photos show a wide crack on one of the citadel's towers.

Parts of the building have collapsed and artefacts inside have been damaged. The National Museum has cracks on its outer face.

Parts of the dome of the minaret of the Ayyubid mosque inside the citadel fell away, while the entrance to the fort has been damaged, including the entrance to the Mamluk tower, the Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums said on Facebook.

Aleppo was Syria's prewar commercial centre and considered one of the world's longest continuously inhabited cities, with markets, mosques, caravanserais and public baths, but a brutal siege imposed on rebels left it disfigured.

Even before the earthquake, buildings in Aleppo often collapsed due to poor infrastructure after more than a decade of civil war and little oversight to ensure the safety of new construction projects.

Information was still filtering out of some Syrian governorates, where communications infrastructure was damaged. In Homs, the government said it was aware of the ancient city of Palmyra and damage to the minarets of Qusayr's grand mosque.

In Hama, the historic facades in ancient neighbourhoods such as Bashoura collapsed. Shmemis Castle, site of the building and rebuilding of fortifications since the first century, has also sustained damage.

The original structure was built on top of an extinct volcano. It was first destroyed by an earthquake, then again by Mongol and Tatar forces in 1260 and 1401, respectively. The current site resembles little more than ruins with partially preserved walls, but even these were damaged by Monday's disaster.

Many of the buildings that collapsed or were damaged in the quake had largely survived 12 years of war in Syria.

Turkey and Syria reel from earthquake — in pictures

Updated: February 10, 2023, 7:02 PM