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Rebuilding World Heritage Sites After Devastating Earthquakes: Turkey, Syria

- Past, present, and future.

Once upon a time...

…the world was filled with countless treasures, each more beautiful and unique than the last. These marvels of nature and human creation were protected by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites, meant to be cherished and preserved for future generations to enjoy.

And then...

However, fate had other plans. Earthquakes, the most powerful and unpredictable of natural disasters, struck on February 6th, 2023, without warning and wreaked havoc on these sacred places. The ancient structures crumbled, the pristine landscapes were scarred, and the cultural legacies were endangered in the southeast of Turkey and northern Syria.

Turkey

Not only are buildings flattened in the Turkish city of Adana, and further east in Diyarbakir, but the devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake also hit Gaziantep and nine other Turkish provinces, such as Hatay, Osmaniye, Adıyaman, Diyarbakır, Sanliurfa, Kahramanmaras, Kilis, Adana, and Malatya. The earthquake-affected regions were once a part of the Hittite, Babylonian, Persian, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Arab, and Ottoman empires.

Gaziantep is home to the ancient Gaziantep Castle with its once impressive façade; now extensively damaged. The ancient structure is at the time of the earthquake included in UNESCO’s tentative list of World Heritage Sites, namely “The Underground Water Structures in Gaziantep; Livas’ and Kastels”.

Large sections of Gaziantep Castle, a Highly Significant 2,000-Year-Old Structure that withstood centuries of invasions, collapsed. The castle began as an observation point during the Hittite Empire. The shattering earthquake left the castle partially in ruins. On the east, south, and southeast sides, bastions (the part of a castle wall jutting outward) had been “destroyed,” with the resulting debris overflowing into the road.

“Some of the bastions in the east, south, and southeast parts of the historical Gaziantep Castle in the central Şahinbey district were destroyed by the earthquake—the debris was scattered on the road. The iron railings around the court were scattered on the surrounding sidewalks. The retaining wall next to the castle also collapsed. In some bastions, large cracks were observed after the earthquake.” – Anadolu, a Turkish state-run news agency.

“Dating back to the Roman empire, around the second, third, and fourth centuries A.D., the structure was originally built as a lookout. It was expanded to its current form by Byzantine emperor Justinianus during the sixth century, according to Turkish Museums, which is run by the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism. The structure is regarded for its unusual circular shape—spanning a diameter of about 328 feet—and its 12 towers. Most recently, the castle has been used to house the Gaziantep Defense and Heroism Panoramic Museum.” – Architectural Digest

Gaziantep Castle Turkiye UNESCO site damaged by February Turkey earthquake magnitude castle collapsed heritage travel and home min
Tentative UNESCO listing as at the time of the devastating earthquake.
Aleppo Syria UNESCO city damaged by February earthquake magnitude heritage travel and home min
The ancient city of Aleppo, damaged by the February 2023 earthquake.

Syria

Aleppo, an ancient Syrian city and a UNESCO World Heritage city whose walls and towers have endured both ancient and modern warfare, has been severely damaged. The city’s renowned Citadel sustained extensive damage despite it having only recently undergone repairs as a result of the violent street fighting that took place during the battle for Aleppo in 2012, a part of the country’s protracted and still-raging civil war.

“The western tower of the old city wall has collapsed and several buildings in the souks — ancient marketplaces — have been weakened.” – UNESCO, the United Nations cultural agency.

The Ayyubid dynasty, which Saladin created and who became well-known for his conflicts with the Christian Crusaders, constructed the majority of what was left of the Citadel in the 12th and 13th centuries A.D., but it also features elements from the Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman empires.

Rebuilding and Protecting Our Cultural Legacies

Tourism, once a source of income and pride for the Turkish and Syrian local communities, will suffer as well. People may be afraid to visit, worried that the next tremor would cause even more damage. The once bustling streets and busy markets will grow quiet.

But history has shown that we humans don’t give up hope. We rally together, determined to restore our heritage sites to their former glory. Teams of experts are likely to work tirelessly to assess the damage and create plans for repair. Donations will pour in from all over the world, as people come together to support the cause.

And slowly, but surely, the sites will begin to recover. The ruins stabilized, the landscapes restored, and the cultural legacies protected. And the colors will return to the world, brighter than ever before.

Tourism, too, will rebound, as people from all over the world flock to see the marvels of the past. They will marvel at the beauty of the sites and the resilience of the people who worked so hard to protect them.

And so, the world will again learn a valuable lesson. That even the strongest of natural disasters will not destroy the human spirit, and that the treasures of the world are worth fighting for. For they will endure, as a testament to the strength of the human soul and the power of heritage.

Lives lost in February Turkey earthquake magnitude remembrance travel and home min

Honoring the Memories of Those Lost

Amidst the rebuilding of the heritage sites, the people will also remember the devastating loss of human life that will have occurred during the earthquakes. They will mourn for the families and friends who will have lost loved ones, and for the vibrant communities that will have been forever changed by the tragedy.

As they work to restore the physical monuments, they will also work to honor the memories of those who have lost their lives. They will create memorials, plant gardens, and hold ceremonies to pay tribute to the fallen.

But no matter how hard they try, they will know that the lives lost can never truly be replaced. Those unique and irreplaceable individuals will be gone forever, taken too soon by the unforgiving forces of nature.

The Power of the Human Spirit in the Face of Adversity

And so, even as they celebrate the rebirth of their heritage sites, the people will carry with them the weight of their loss. They will move forward, but never forget the toll that the earthquakes will have taken on their communities.

For they will know that the rebuilding of the physical monuments is only one part of the healing process. The true memorials to the fallen will always be the memories they carry in their hearts, and the love and resilience that they will continue to show in the face of tragedy.

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