And then there is a second reason why I rejoice at the news from Palmyra – and although I am aware that for many people this is a very secondary consideration, it is, for me, of deep emotional importance. The victory of Assad is a victory for archaeology, a victory for all those who care about the ancient monuments of one of the most amazing cultural sites on Earth. The monsters of Isil were not just content to murder anyone who refused to accept their barbaric version of Islam. They were so small, so narrow, so stunted in their understanding of the will of God that they regarded any pre-Islamic building or structure – no matter how beautiful – as being somehow a blasphemy. They have mined, bombed and demolished some of the most sublime buildings in the world. They took the devoted curator of the site, Khaled al-Assad, and punished him for his scholarship by killing him in the amphitheatre.
The period in which Isil has held Palmyra – now almost a year – has been a moral and cultural catastrophe. And yes, that is why I am glad that they have been driven from the site.
On April 19, we in London will show our solidarity with Palmyra by erecting in Trafalgar Square a digitally reproduced copy of the 15-metre gateway of the Temple of Bel. The project is being led by the Institute of Digital Archaeology, and it is a joint venture with Harvard, Oxford and Dubai’s Museum of the Future.