Prague to send repaired art damaged by IS home to Syria

PRAGUE (AFP): Twenty artefacts repaired by Czech art restorers after being damaged during the civil war in Syria are on display at Prague’s National Museum before their return back home next month.

The objects include three limestone funerary portraits from the UNESCO-listed ancient site of Palmyra, which were damaged by Islamic State group militants who took the city by force in 2015.

“Things get damaged by fighting, on purpose for ideological reasons, or by local people looking for something to sell,” National Museum director Michal Lukes told AFP.

“These portraits were all smashed with metal hammers,” he added at the “Restored Face” exhibition.

Syrian government forces retook control of Palmyra in 2017 after the city had served as a stage for public executions, with many of its famed landmarks destroyed by the Islamic State group.

Inspired by previous cooperation with Sudan and Afghanistan, the National Museum brought the twenty artefacts from Syria in 2022 and its team of six restorers took a year to repair them.

“There are metal, bronze and iron objects and the funerary portraits from Palmyra,” said Lukes.

The exhibits include a gold-coated pin from 1600-1200 BC, bronze razors and a knife, as well as bronze and copper statuettes of ancient gods.

Prague’s National Museum has been cooperating with Syria’s Directorate General for Antiquities and Museums since 2017.

“We started to help them by supplying material which was indispensable for them to maintain, conserve, transport and treat artefacts mainly from war zones,” said Lukes.

The cooperation led to the creation of a joint archaeological team working near the western Syrian city of Latakia.

After the month-long exhibition, the artefacts will return to Syria by the end of May, Lukes said.

“I hope the situation in Syria has calmed down enough so that they won’t be damaged again,” he told AFP.

“The exhibition is a memento not only of Syria, but of all countries in the world where a war is raging and monuments are being damaged,” Lukes added.