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“I still cannot believe why the people all around the world—the public people, I mean, the governments or UNESCO, the UN, the others involved in the culture or in humanity—why they do nothing to preserve Palmyra, to stop the attack of the militants of Daesh.”

By the 3rd century CE, the ancient city of Palmyra, also known as Tadmur in Arabic, was a global crossroads, where caravans from Mesopotamia, Persia, China, Rome, and Europe exchanged both goods and beliefs. During the Roman era, Palmyra flourished, with its unique, cosmopolitan culture reflected in elaborately decorated buildings and monuments. That ancient legacy continues today; Palmyrene residents maintained their culture and identity while living alongside well-preserved archeological ruins for centuries. Tragically, in 2015, ISIS militants destroyed many of those important historic sites, including the Temple of Bel. There are no firm plans yet for restoring the ruins and surrounding municipality as the Syrian civil war drags on.

In this episode, Waleed al-As’ad, former director of antiquities and museums at Palmyra, discusses the ancient and the contemporary city, as well as the possible future for the site. His father, Khaled al-As’ad, preceded him as director and was publicly executed for refusing to cooperate with ISIS. Waleed is currently living in France, a refugee of Syria’s civil war. This conversation coincides with the relaunch of the Getty Research Institute’s online exhibition Return to Palmyra, which features a written interview with Waleed.

A faded photography in color of a group of people wearing traditional Syrian head-coverings standing in rocky landscape.

Waleed Khaled al-As’ad, six years old, standing in front of his father, Khaled al-As’ad, with the Syria-Japan delegation at excavations of Douara cave, Syria, ca. 1975. Photo courtesy Waleed al-As’ad

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Return to Palmyra

JAMES CUNO: Hello, I’m Jim Cuno President of the J. Paul Getty Trust. Welcome to Art and Ideas, a podcast in which I speak to artists, conservators, authors, and scholars about their work.
WALEED AL-AS’AD: I still cannot believe why the people all around the world—the public people, ...

Music Credits
“The Dharma at Big Sur – Sri Moonshine and A New Day.” Music written by John Adams and licensed with permission from Hendon Music. (P) 2006 Nonesuch Records, Inc., Produced Under License From Nonesuch Records, Inc. ISRC: USNO10600825 & USNO10600824

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This post is part of Art + Ideas, a podcast in which Getty president Jim Cuno talks with artists, writers, curators, and scholars about their work.
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