After ISIS militants seized control of Palmyra—the ancient Syrian city called the “Venice of the Sands”— last May, they immediately set out to destroy it. Bit by bit the UNESCO World Heritage site was blown apart and became the backdrop for unfathomable acts of cruelty: ISIS beheaded the site’s 82-year-old curator and staged public executions in its second-century Roman amphitheater.
The site was recaptured by Syrian forces in late March, but by then it was too late: Many of the site’s monuments had been reduced to rubble, including the Temple of Bel and the Arch of Triumph, both of which stood for nearly two millennia.
While some historians and preservationists may be cautious of the idea of recreating destroyed monuments, Michel disagrees. Tuesday evening after the arch’s unveiling, he encountered a group of young Syrian expatriates admiring the monument. They thanked him.
“In the West people are obsessed with physical objects—we want to hold on to the object the master touched,” he says. “The reality is for people in other parts of the world, the symbolism is where the importance lies.”
The recreated Arch of Triumph was dismantled in Trafalgar Square Thursday, but will next travel to Oxford this summer and will be shown in New York this fall.