Images Show ISIS Didn't Completely Destroy Palmyra

"The joy I feel is indescribable," Syria's antiquities director said.

29/03/2016 9:04 AM AEDT | Updated 29/03/2016 9:04 AM AEDT

The first images and videos released of the historic Syrian city of Palmyra, which government forces retook from the self-styled Islamic State on Sunday, have given archaeologists hope that many of the historic city's structures are still intact and restorable.

Footage of parts of the city appeared to show that it had been reduced to rubble, and Syrian television showed many valuable artifacts inside Palmyra's museum smashed or torn up. But Palmyra as a whole hasn't been destroyed to the degree that many experts feared.

"We were expecting the worst. But the landscape, in general, is in good shape," Maamoun Abdulkarim, Syria's Directorate-General for Antiquities and Museums, told Agence France-Presse. "The joy I feel is indescribable."

Antiquities experts may even be able to start restoration work "in a year's time" and restore all the damaged structures in five years, Abdulkarim told AFP.

UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova said she "welcome[s] the liberation of Palmyra" and is ready to send emergency assessment experts to help map the city's ruins.

Archaeologists are optimistic that many structures inside Palmyra, the historic city that Syrian government forces retook from Islamic State militants Sunday, could still be restored. The top image shows Palmyra's Arch of Triumph in June 19, 2010; the bottom image shows the structure's remains on March 27, 2016.

Palmyra, which is located in central Syria, once served as a trade hub in ancient times that linked several civilizations, including Persia, India and China, to the Roman Empire, according to UNESCO. Many of the city's art and architecture reflect the styles of the city's local, Greco-Roman and Persian inhabitants in the first and second centuries, it added.

Now, multiple roads run through the city, connecting it to major government strongholds in the country's west, such as Damascus and Homs, to eastern territories, such as Raqqa and Deir Ezzor, which ISIS controls.

Palmyra is also close to many gas fields that previously provided the majority of the electricity in its surrounding areas. It remains unclear, however, whether or not government forces have retaken control over the gas fields.

Valery Sharifulin/TASS/Getty Images
Islamic State assailants grabbed control of Palmyra in May 2015 destroying many of the city's monuments, including the Arch of Triumph, pictured here.

After seizing control of Palmyra in May, ISIS extremists blew up a number of Palmyra's ancient monuments, including the Temple of Bel, Temple of Baal Shamin and Monumental Arch of Triumph, which were constructed almost 2,000 years ago. The assailants, who follow extremist interpretations of Islam, believed that many of Palmyra's monuments and artifacts were objects of idolatry that had to be destroyed.

UNESCO condemned the destruction of Palmyra's monuments as a "war crime" and said that extremists were "terrified of history."

ISIS has also used the city's ancient Roman amphitheater as the site of public executions. In July, it released a video that appeared to show 25 men being lined up and shot dead in front of the Roman theater in front of an audience. The terrorists have also killed hundreds of civilians, including a renowned elderly antiquities scholar, since they took control of Palmyra, the Syrian government said.

Before the onset of the Syrian civil war in 2011, some 150,000 tourists visited Palmyra every year, according to the BBC.

Valery Sharifulin via Getty Images
Islamic State militants claimed to use Palmyra's ancient Roman Theater, pictured here on Sunday, to stage public executions.

Palmyra's recapture marked one of the largest victories in the fight against the extremist group since its rise to power in Syria and Iraq two years ago. It was also the largest single gain for Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces since Russia launched an aerial campaign in the country in support of the Assad regime in September, per Reuters.

Syria's military said it would now use Palmyra as a base to launch further attacks on ISIS, which experts say has been losing ground in Syria and Iraq in recent months. In a speech in Brussels on Friday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry suggested that the reason Islamic State militants have been carrying out attacks outside the Middle East is due to their failures within the region.

Take a look at the photos below to see what Palmyra looks like now:

  • REUTERS/Rossiya 24/Handout via Reuters TV
    An aerial view of Palmyra on March 28 shows that many of the ancient city's monuments were still standing.
    Syria's state-owned news agency, SANA, released a photo on March 27 showing a general view of Palmyra.
  • Valery Sharifulin/TASS via Getty Images
    A view of the Great Colonnade in Palmyra.
  • Valery Sharifulin/TASS/Getty Images
    Parts of the Great Colonnade remain in Palmyra.
  • Valery Sharifulin/TASS/Getty Images
    Here's another view of Palmyra's Great Colonnade.
  • Valery Sharifulin/TASS via Getty Images
    Islamic State militants reportedly staged executions at the Roman Theater.
  • Valery Sharifulin\TASS via Getty Images
    Ruins of the Arch of Triumph, which was destroyed by Islamic State militants in October 2015, remain in Palmyra.
  • Valery Sharifulin/TASS/Getty Images
    Here's another general view of Palmyra's ruins.
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