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7 Historic Sites That Have Been Destroyed in the Last 22 Years

We’ve lost many chapters of our history and culture.

Three years ago, the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris caught fire. The roof suffered extensive damage and the spire collapsed, but the cathedral survived the raging flames and has been under renovation since. However, there are other monuments around the world that could face a similar fate. But that’s not it—historic sites worldwide are also under threat because of wars and conflicts. This April, UNESCO said that at least 53 cultural sites in Ukraine have been damaged after Russia’s invasion. 

We have lost many significant sites in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Nepal, among others, due to war and disasters in the last two decades. These are just a few.

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Old City of Aleppo

WHERE: Syria

The civil war in Syria has killed half a million and displaced millions of people. It’s been 11 years since the war started and the damage is unfathomable. The worst-hit city was one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited in the world, Aleppo. 

UNESCO estimated that around 60% of the old city in Aleppo—a UNESCO World Heritage Site—has been damaged and 30% completely destroyed. This includes the Great Mosque of Aleppo, built between the 8th and 13th centuries. The minaret of Umayyad Mosque was completely destroyed and the complex was left covered in bullet holes. Another part of the old city, the historic covered souk dating back to the 1300s, was also ruined. 

The restoration work is ongoing and the shops in the souk have started to reopen.

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WHERE: Syria

Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, Palmyra is home to art and artifacts from the 1st and 2nd centuries. In 2015, ISIS besieged the ancient city and destroyed important cultural sites. Militants detonated explosives in the 2,000-year-old Temple of Bel and posted pictures of the damage they did to the Temple of Baalshamin. The group also blew up the 1,800-year-old Arch of Triumph.

Later in 2017, when they recaptured the city, ISIS also destroyed the tetrapylon (a group of Roman pillars) and the facade of the Roman theatre.

Related: Royalty, Artists, and Intelligentsia Stayed in This Hotel Overlooking Forgotten Roman Ruins. After 150 Years, It’s in Danger of Closing

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Kathmandu Valley

WHERE: Nepal

More than 9,000 people were killed in a devastating earthquake that shook up Nepal in 2015. There was a tremendous loss of medieval buildings and structures in the valley, which encompasses the cities of Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, and Patan. Kathmandu Valley is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has seven groups of monuments, many of which were damaged.

Built in 1832, the 60-meter (196-foot) minaret tower of Dharahara turned to rubble, and the three-story Hindu temple of Kasthamandap was severely impacted. According to UNESCO, “This natural disaster heavily damaged Nepal’s cultural and natural heritage, including 691 historic buildings in 16 districts, of which 131 fully collapsed.”

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Bamiyan Buddhas

WHERE: Afghanistan

In 2001, the Taliban ordered two Buddhist statues in the Bamiyan Valley to be destroyed. Standing tall at 55 meters (180 feet) and 38 meters (124 feet), these Buddha statues dated back to the 5th century and had been carved out of sandstone cliffs. Bullets, tanks, and dynamite were used to demolish these idols to erase Afghanistan’s “pre-Islam” history. The Taliban sent a message to the world after ignoring their echoing pleas of safeguarding ancient heritage—there was much outrage and horror when the militants made a spectacle out of this violence. 

The Bamiyan Valley was an important religious, cultural, and trade center on the Silk Route and these statues were once the tallest standing Buddhas in the world. There have been many talks of rebuilding these statues because of their historic significance, but it’s still debated and the niches remain empty. Last year, a 3D projection brought them to life in their place of rest to mark the 20th anniversary of the destruction.


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Heart-breaking videos of the ISIS sledgehammering, drilling, and tearing down sculptures and carvings of the ancient city of Nimrud were released when they seized the area in 2015. The militant group blew up the 3,000-year-old ancient city to smithereens and bulldozed the ziggurat (terraced pyramid) to the ground. 

Archeologists started the excavation of the palaces and temples of this Assyrian city back in the 1840s. The colossal statues of winged bulls, or lamassus, that guarded the palace were also deliberately smashed.

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National Museum of Brazil

WHERE: Brazil

In 2018, flames engulfed the 200-year-old National Museum in Rio—the oldest and most important museum in Brazil. It had a collection of over 20 million items, 92.5% of which were destroyed in the fire. Much of the imperial palace, where the museum is housed, also suffered and its roof collapsed. Rebuilding and restoration is currently underway. 

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Glasgow School of Art

WHERE: Scotland

The prestigious Glasgow School of Art was ravaged by fire not once, but twice. The Mackintosh building was designed in art nouveau style by Scottish architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh. It was completed in 1909 and was considered his finest masterpiece. In 2014, a fire broke out and while much of the building was saved, the library was lost. As restoration work was underway, another blaze consumed the building four years later in 2018—this one was much worse. 

In January 2022, the report to find the cause for the second fire was released: it couldn’t be determined.