In Syria, cultural heritage is part of everyday life. Syrians live in ancient urban cities and neighborhoods, pray in historic mosques and churches, and shop in old bazaars. Cultural heritage informs national identity and understandings of what it means to be Syrian. It creates shared bonds to a common past, standing as a tangible reminder of the millennia of experience that have shaped Syria as a modern nation. Cultural heritage is also important to Syria's economy, a source of significant national income and employment. The destruction of Syrian heritage therefore presents immediate preservation and social concerns, elevating the need to address the protection of the country’s cultural fabric.

This project, the Safeguarding the Heritage of Syria Initiative (SHOSI), will develop specific interventions that enhance the ability to protect Syria’s cultural heritage, in large measure by empowering the Syrians to preserve their own heritage. The conflict in Syria is now taking on a sectarian character. The targeting and destruction of cultural, historical, and religious sites and structures associated with a particular cultural or religious community will make any efforts at post-conflict reconstruction, reconciliation, and stabilization significantly more difficult. Efforts taken now to document and protect Syria’s cultural heritage will pay off in the future by reducing post-conflict tensions between these various ethnic and religious groups and by allowing greater preservation of heritage for the benefit of future generations of Syrians.

Database of Damage to Syrian Heritage

The PennCHC is currently creating a database to document damage sustained by archaeological sites, heritage sites, monuments, museums, artifacts, religious sites, and other cultural institutions as a result of the ongoing civil war in Syria. The PennCHC, in collaboration with an international group of scholars, government agencies, and other institutions, has identified over 1200 sites of key cultural, religious, and historical importance in Syria. Using the International Core Data Standard for Archaeological Site and Monuments, developed by the International Council of Museums (ICOM), we are systematically identifying these sites and the damage done to them, using sources like news reports, Youtube videos, and blog posts. Ultimately, we hope to make this database available for public use, so that reports of such damage may be uploaded in real time.