Director-General of UNESCO deplores severe damage at Church of Saint Simeon, World Heritage site in Syria

The Director-General of UNESCO, Ms Irina Bokova, has deplored severe damages at the historic byzantine Church of Saint-Simeon, part of the UNESCO World Heritage property of the Ancient Villages of Northern Syria, possibly as a result of an airstrike on 12 May last. UNESCO received several reports and photographic evidence revealing that the Church has suffered extensive damage, including to the remains of the pillars of Saint Simeon.

“I reiterate my calls on all parties to the conflict to abstain from using cultural property for any military purpose, across all of Syria, in order to avoid exposing such property to further damage. I reiterate also my calls on all parties to refrain from targeting cultural heritage sites and monuments, in accordance with customary international humanitarian law and the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, and its two protocols.” declared the Director-General. 

“The conflict in Syria is causing incalculable human suffering and loss. The Destruction of Syria’s unique cultural heritage is part and parcel of the humanitarian and security crisis. Its protection is therefore an integral part of wider efforts to end violence, to protect human life and move to peace.” she added. 

The Church of Saint Simeon Stylites is part of the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Ancient Villages of Northern Syria, that provides remarkable testimony to rural life in late Antiquity and during the Byzantine period. The villages, which date from the 1st to 7th centuries, feature a remarkably well preserved landscape and the architectural remains of dwellings, pagan temples, churches, cisterns, bathhouses etc. The cultural landscape also illustrates the transition from the ancient pagan world of the Roman Empire to Byzantine Christianity, bearing witness to the depth of cultural and religious traditions in Syria. The byzantine Church was built in the year 490 AD on Mount Simeon and has been revered as an iconic testimony of the history and identity of the Syrian people.