Syrian Refugees Build Miniature Replicas of Country’s Destroyed Monuments

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As war rages on in Syria, it’s only the people that refugee camps could provide protection to. The homes, the cities, the culture and the historical monuments that Syrians left behind are being systematically destroyed by Islamist militants. In August last year, the entire world watched in disbelief as militants demolished iconic landmarks in the ancient city of Palmyra, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The destruction of the rich cultural heritage has been an additional blow for the millions of refugees in exile who have already lost their homes, livelihoods and loved ones.

Outraged yet powerless to prevent the devastation of their homeland, a group of Syrian artists living in Jordan’s Zaatari refugee camp have got together to pool their skills and resources and build models of their country’s historical landmarks that have been lost to the war. Using scant materials available at the refugee camp, such as discarded pieces of wood, clay, rocks, polystyrene and even kebab skewers, these artists are working to make sure that their history won’t disappear for good.

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Mahmoud Hariri, 25, building a model of Palmyra using clay and wooden kebab skewers. Hariri was an art teacher and painter in Syria before seeking refuge in Za’atari in 2013. “When I first arrived I didn’t think I would continue my work as I only expected to be here for a week or two. But when I realised it would be years, I knew I had to start again or lose my skills.” Photo credit: Christopher Herwig

“The artifacts that have been destroyed are a loss to the whole world and not only to Syria,” said project coordinator Ahmad al-Hariri. “The goal is to define the Syrian people, preserve our heritage, and prove Syrian identity, and the most important message is to stop the war.” The project hopes not only to help older generations remember their culture, but also to educate children some of who have never seen their homeland and have no memory of it.

Among the models the artists have built so far are the Deir ez-Zor suspension bridge, which spanned the Euphrates River, the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, the Citadel of Aleppo, the Nabatean gate and arch at Bosra, and a statue of famed military and political leader Ayyubid Sultan Saladin.

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Photo credit: Christopher Herwig

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Photo credit: Christopher Herwig

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Ismail Hariri, 44, began sculpting at an early age. He worked as an interior designer before the conflict forced him to flee to Jordan with his wife and children in 2013. Ismail made several sculptures for the exhibition. His favourite depicts the Nabatean gate and arch at Bosra, near Dara’a. Like the original, it is made from volcanic stone, which he found in the camp. Photo credit: Christopher Herwig

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Photo credit: Christopher Herwig

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The Citadel of Aleppo is one of the oldest and largest castles in the world, towering over the old city from a strategic position atop a 40-metre-high plateau. The 12th century fortress suffered significant damage, the full extent of which is still unknown. Photo credit: Christopher Herwig

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A replica of the Deir ez-Zor suspension bridge erected for pedestrians in 1927, across the Euphrates River in north-eastern Syria. It was destroyed by shelling in 2013. Photo credit: Christopher Herwig

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A replica of the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, built 1,300 years ago. It is said to be one of the largest and oldest mosques in the world. Photo credit: Christopher Herwig

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A replica of the Norias of Hama, constructed over 750 years ago along the Orontes River. The wheel used the power of the current to lift pots of water to higher elevation. Photo credit: Christopher Herwig

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A replica of the huge bronze statue of the famed military and political leader Ayyubid Sultan Saladin who successfully led Muslim opposition to the European Crusaders in the Levant during the 12th century. The has stood in front of the medieval Citadel of Damascus since 1993. Photo credit: Christopher Herwig

Sources: CityLab / UNHCR

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