1 September 2015, Geneva, Switzerland - UNITAR’s Operational Satellite Applications Programme - UNOSAT's analysts have used commercial satellite imagery over Syria to confirm reports that two main temples part of the cultural heritage site of Palmyra have been destroyed.  Only hours earlier, on Monday 31 August 2015, some in Syria believed the temple was still standing despite rumours of its destruction. But after acquiring rush imagery from one of its partners, UNOSAT confirmed during the night between Monday and Tuesday 1 September the loss of the ancient monument.

"Unfortunately, the images we acquired do show that the main building of the temple has been destroyed,"

says Einar Bjorgo, UNOSAT Manager.

Temple of Bel, Palmyra, Syria, source: wikicommonsThe image that allowed the UNOSAT Team housed at CERN to confirm the destruction of this ancient structure considered by UNESCO one of the most valuable historical sites in the world, came from UrtheCast, a company linked to UNOSAT by a Memorandum of Understanding for the exploitation of high resolution imagery from sensors aboard the International Space Station and from optical earth observation satellites. Dan Lopez of UrtheCast says “We are excited to expand our relationship with UNITAR’s UNOSAT programme and support their work to protect human rights and advance development for the most vulnerable. Our technology provides a means to focus on the right issues at the right time.”

Earlier in August UNOSAT imagery analysis had confirmed the destruction of another temple, Baal Shamin also part of the Palmyra site.

In December 2014 UNOSAT had released a large study on the impact of the Syrian conflict on cultural heritage sites inside the country, done in collaboration with UNESCO’s Emergency Preparedness and Response Unit.

UNITAR is appealing to donors to fund a cultural heritage observation pan together with UNESCO to monitor the state of monuments in areas of conflict in Syria and Iraq.


Imag:Temple of Bel, Palmyra, Syria / Source:Wikimedia Commons


UNOSAT Damage Assessment of Temple of Bel, Palmyra, Syria

Satellite imagery on 27 August 2015 (before destruction)

Satellite imagery on 27 August 2015 (before destruction) Temple of Bel, Palmyra, Syria, Copyright Airbus Defense and Space

Copyright Airbus Defense and Space


Satellite imagery on 31 August 2015 (after destruction)

Satellite imagery on 31 August 2015 (after destruction) Temple of Bel, Copyright  UrtheCast, Image analysis: UNITAR-UNOSAT

Copyright  UrtheCast, Image analysis: UNITAR-UNOSAT


UNOSAT Damage Assessment of Baal Shamin Temple, Palmyra, Syria

Imagery acquired on 27 August 2015 (below) shows the Baal Shamin Temple completely destroyed. Using satellite imagery acquired 27 and 25 August 2015 compared with imagery from 26 June 2015, UNITAR-UNOSAT identified the location of the temple and damage extent. The Temple of Baal Shamin was an ancient stone ruin located in Palmyra, Syria.

Satellite imagery on 26 June 2015 (before destruction), Digital Globe WorldView-2

(click the image to enlarge)

Satellite imagery on 26 June 2015 (before destruction), Digital Globe WorldView-2 Copyright: US Department of State, Humanitarian Information Unit, NextView License (DigitalGlobe), Satellite Imagery Analysis by UNITAR-UNOSAT

Copyright: US Department of State, Humanitarian Information Unit, NextView License (DigitalGlobe), Satellite Imagery Analysis by UNITAR-UNOSAT


Satellite imagery on 27 August 2015, Airbus D&S Pléiades Image

(click the image to enlarge)

Satellite imagery of Baal Shamin Temple on 27 August 2015, Airbus D&S Pléiades Image

Airbus Defense and Space, Satellite Imagery Analysis by UNITAR-UNOSAT.

(click the image to enlarge)


Related links

UNOSAT report on cultural heritage

https://www.unitar.org/unosat-report-damage-cultural-heritage-sites-syria-calls-scaled-protection-efforts

Other UNOSAT maps on the Syrian crisis

https://www.unitar.org/unosat/maps/SYR