The devastation at Nimrud

A fragment of an Assyrian-era relief shows the image of a genie holding a pine cone at the ancient site of Nimrud that was destroyed by Islamic State group militants near Mosul, Iraq. in this Nov. 28, 2016 photo. In the 9th and 8th centuries BC, Nimrud was the capital of the Assyrian Empire, which burst out of Northern Mesopotamia to conquer much of the Mideast. The remains of its palaces, reliefs and temples were methodically blown up and torn to pieces by the Islamic State group in early 2015 in its campaign to erase history. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

A fragment of an Assyrian-era relief shows the image of a genie holding a pine cone at the ancient site of Nimrud, destroyed by Islamic State group militants.

The chilly December wind whipped rain across the strewn wreckage of a city that, nearly 3,000 years ago, ruled almost the entire Middle East. Rivulets of water ran through the dirt, washing away chunks of ancient stone.The city of Nimrud in northern Iraq is in pieces, victim of the Islamic State group’s fervor to erase history. The remains of its palaces and temples, once lined in brilliant reliefs of gods and kings, have been blown up. The statues of winged bulls that once guarded the site are hacked to bits. Its towering ziggurat, or step pyramid, has been bulldozed.The militants’ fanaticism devastated one of the Middle East’s most important archaeological sites. But more than a month after the militants were driven out, Nimrud is still being ravaged, its treasures disappearing, imperiling any chance of eventually rebuilding it, an Associated Press team found after multiple visits in the past month.

With the government and military still absorbed in fighting the war against the Islamic State group in nearby Mosul, the wreckage of the Assyrian Empire’s ancient capital lies unprotected and vulnerable to looters. “When I heard about Nimrud, my heart wept before my eyes did,” said Hiba Hazim Hamad, an archaeology professor in Mosul who often took her students there. In three of the AP’s four visits, its team wandered the ruins alone freely for up to an hour before anyone arrived. No one is assigned to guard the site, much less catalog the fragments. Toppled stone slabs bearing a relief that the AP saw on one visit were gone when it returned.

Perhaps the only vigilant guardian left is an Iraqi archaeologist, Layla Salih. She has visited multiple times, photographing the wreckage to document it and badgering militias to watch over it. Walking through the ruins on a rainy winter day, she pointed out things that were no longer in place. Still, Salih finds reasons for optimism. “The good thing is the rubble is still in situ,” she said. “The site is restorable.”

To an untrained eye, that’s hard to imagine, seeing the destruction caused by the Islamic State group. Salih estimated 60 percent of the site was irrecoverable.

AP Photo by Maya Alleruzzo

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