The UNESCO World Heritage site of Palmyra lies to the northeast of Damascus and dates as far back as 2000 BC. Palmyra rose to prominence as a trade route and developed significantly during the Roman occupation of Syria. Today the stunning archaeological site has been targeted by invading forces and three major monuments were destroyed in the summer of 2015 including the Temples of Baalshamin and Bel (Figure 1) and the triumphal arch. In April 2016 a scale replica of the central section of this triumphal arch was recreated and erected in London for public viewing.
Reasons for Creating Copies
In Syria all of the UNESCO listed World Heritage Sites have been damaged either during the civil war or by the invading Islamic State Militants causing a public outcry. Such sites are seen as a shared heritage and authorities seek to bring this destruction to the attention of the wider public. There is also a need to preserve the past to enable future generations to understand the history and experience this heritage first-hand.
There has been a long history of copying architecture for such purposes. The Victoria and Albert Museum has a cast court containing many plaster copies of architecture and sculpture including a full size replica of Trajan’s Column which shows far more detail than the original which has now been worn by weathering and pollution.
In other situations, it may be more appropriate to move a building from its original location to protect it, often this may involve moving it to an open air museum. Architecture may also be completely rebuilt in situ, such as the Mostar Bridge, destroyed in 1993 during the Balkans conflict.
More recently projects such as the Million Image Database developed by the Institute for Digital Archaeology (IDA) headed by Roger Michel, have been developed to gather documentary records about heritage which will enable recreation of this heritage using 3D technology. Many of the images have been gathered by local people in Syria using 3D cameras distributed by the IDS. (Richardson, 2016)
One such example is the reproduction of the Palmyra Arch which was unveiled on 19 April 2016 to a fanfare of publicity (Figure 2). There are a number of factors regarding the arch: it is one third the size of the original; it is made of uniform yellow Egyptian Marble; it was laser cut by machine in Italy; it represents only one third of the original arch; and it was displayed in Trafalgar Square, a site selected for its neo-classical architecture for two days only.
Opinion has been divided by the creation of the arch. Many see this as just a publicity stunt. Jonathan Jones of the Guardian summed up: “What is never legitimate is to rebuild ancient monuments using modern materials to replace lost parts – to essentially refabricate them – even though today’s technology makes that seem practical.” (Voon, 2016)
The copy also lacks detail. The Factum Foundation compared photographs of the original arch with the copy and identified much of the exquisite detail of the original had not been fully reproduced, despite claims from Michel that the copy is “completely indistinguishable from the original” (Figure 3), (Lowe, 2016).
However the Syrian Directorate-General of Antiquities and Museums, Professor Maamoon Abudulkarim supports the project suggesting that the replica will help to promote a message of peace and resistance against terrorism. (Voon, 2016)
Aesthetics and Ethics
Article 7 of the Venice Charter states “A monument is inseparable from the history to which it bears witness and from the setting in which it occurs.” (Petzet, 2004). The Venice Charter cites conservation, restoration, renovation and replacement of components as preferable to replacing an original with a copy.
The 1994 Nara Document on Authenticity also states “… authenticity judgements … may include form and design, materials and substance, use and function, traditions and techniques, location and setting, and spirit and feeling, and other internal and external factors.” (ICOMOS, 1994)
The copy of the Palmyra arch fails to meet a single one of these aspects. Additionally, a fence was put around the arch to prevent the public from accessing it physically. Although this should have been a symbol of resistance, the small scale had the opposite effect appearing very small and insignificant in front of the National Gallery. (Abrahams, 2016)
A digitally carved fragment of the Palmyra Arch was displayed with copies of other heritage artefacts including a shelter from the Calais Jungle (Mairs, 2016) at the Venice V&A exhibition ‘A World of Fragile Parts’. Together these objects and the associated explanations clearly relate the humanitarian crisis as well as the cultural heritage issues.
The copy of the arch was a poor facsimile of the original in Palmyra. Nothing about the original arch, its size, colour, detail, method of construction or location could enable the public to experience the grandeur of the original arch. There was no opportunity to touch the stone or walk underneath the arch to obtain a sense of scale. Although it can be concluded that the intention was honourable, and the use of photographic techniques and 3D modelling demonstrates what could be achieved, this copy has not enabled the public to experience the original Triumphal Arch of Palmyra.
- Abrahams, T. (2016) 'Palmyra Arch lives again (again)', RIBA Journal. Available at: https://www.ribaj.com/culture/palmyra-arch-venice (Accessed: 22/06/2016).
- ICOMOS. (1994) 'The Nara Document on Authenticity (1994)'. Available at: www.icomos.org/charters/nara-e.pdf (Accessed: 26/06/2016).
- Lowe, O. (2016) 'IDA Palmyra Arch Copy'. Available at: www.factum-arte.com/lib/kcfinder/upload/files/text/2016/IDA%20Palmyra%20Arch%20web.pdf (Accessed: 26/06/2016).
- Mairs, J. (2016) 'V&A features Sam Jacob's replica refugee shelter in copying exhibition at Venice Biennale'. Available at: http://www.dezeen.com/2016/06/03/v-a-victoria-albert-world-of-fragile-parts-replica-refugee-shelter-sam-jacob-3d-copying-exhibition-venice-architecture-biennale-2016/ (Accessed: 27/06/2016).
- Petzet, M. (2004) 'Principles of Preservation: An Introduction to the International Charters for Conservation and Restoration 40 Years after the Venice Charter'. Available at: www.icomos.org/venice-charter2004/petzet.pdf (Accessed: 26/06/2016).
- Phanþuwongpakdee, K. (2016) 'Palmyra's Arch of Triumph recreated in Trafalgar Square (Photograph)'. Available at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/manateedugong/26572442605 (Accessed:
- Richardson, N. (2016) 'The Arch of Triumph of Palmyra is recreated in London - 1,800 years after it was built', The Telegraph. Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/04/08/why-the-arch-of-triumph-of-palmyra-is-being-recreated-in-london (Accessed: 22/06/2016).
- Voon, C. (2016) 'What's the Value of Recreating the Palmyra Arch with Digital Technology?', Hyperallergic. Available at: http://hyperallergic.com/292006/whats-the-value-of-recreating-the-palmyra-arch-with-digital-technology/ (Accessed: 19/04/2016).