DAMASCUS: A Damascus museum on Tuesday (Apr 23) unveiled a replica, built by Italian archaeologists, of part of a temple altar destroyed by Islamic State militants in the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra.
The 2,000-year-old Temple of Bel at Palmyra was one of the jewels in Syria's lavish trove of historical monuments, spanning myriad civilisations, before the country's conflict began in 2011.
Islamic State seized Palmyra in May 2015 and demolished many of its ancient structures and objects, while looting others to help finance its operations.
The temple's ornate stone altar structure was destroyed in October 2015, but an Italian team has rebuilt its ceiling using 3D imaging and skilled stonework.
"It is identical to the original piece with all its details and decorations because the 3D technique is very developed," said Mamoun Abdul Karim, the former head of the Syrian government's antiquities department.
"But it is no substitute for the original object," he added.
The new altar is 4m long and built with a combination of plastic and polished stone, said Frances Pinnock of the Sapienza University of Rome, head of the scientific team that worked on the building process.
She said they had proposed building a replica as an emotional response to the destruction of the ceiling, but also to see if it was scientifically possible to construct what was lost.
Abdul Karim called on the international community to make the same effort to restore Syria's Palmyra as it is making for Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, damaged in a fire last week.
"It is an international responsibility," he said.