The site is located in the Afrin valley (North Syria) at 70 km northeast of Aleppo, near the Syrian-Turkish border. Cyrrhus, one of important Hellenistic cities in Syrian, is capital of Cyrrhestique, was founded by Seleucos I, and then occupied successively in the Roman, Byzantine and Islamic periods. Since 1952 this site was excavated by a French mission, several campaigns of excavations and studies succeeded one another until 1995. Then the Syrian-Lebanese mission, created in 2006 takes over the study of the city. During the past periods, the site has suffered a lot of damage, which has increased or decreased according to the situation and the security conditions in the area. But in 2018 the severity of the damage increased in a way that threatened the safety of the site and even its full existence. By 2018, however, the damage has increased to threaten the safety of the site and its buildings, which can be completely leveled.
Before 2011 the site of Cyrrhus suffered a lot of damage, especially in the period between the suspension of the French mission in 1995 and before the start of the Syrian-Lebanese mission in 2006 (Some modern construction near the site, agriculture works even within the site, in addition to looting). Despite the rehabilitation of the site by the Syrian-Lebanese Mission, and despite all the efforts exerted, the looting has not been completely eliminated.
But in the period after 2011 the site suffers from serious damage as is the case of most of the archaeological sites in the north of Syria due to the weakness of Security and the absence of archaeological authority and the change of political and administrative trends, in addition to targeting sites with shelling and combat operations, and this is the subject of our report.
I–Site situation between 2011- 2018
During the period between 2011 and the end of 2017, this area of Afrin and especially the site of Cyrrhus came under the locale authority. The site’s locations far from the fighting zones were a key factor in it protection and spare it from destruction until 2018. Despite this relatively stable situation, Cyrrhus and the sites in this Afrin area have suffered some damage, Due to military use by local military forces. Many hills and archaeological sites were used as military observation posts by local armed group. The unique geographical location of Cyrrhus, especially in a high plateau area overlooking the entire surrounding area, made it a suitable place for soldiers. The local armed group was stationed in two points in the southeast corner of the site and at the top of the Golgovan plateau. Those two areas were bulldozed and some trenches were dug for the soldiers. Many of the monuments were damaged; we cannot assess the damage accurately at this stage.
II- Site situation in 2018
The presence of the army on the site of Cyrrhus before 2018, although little damaged the site, but it was a factor of protection of the site of looting, no one was allowed to approach or access the site. In the beginning of 2018 the political and military situation was change, and a new armed forces control this region. These changes have aggravated the situation, which increased the damage that threatened the archaeological sites. Through the team’s visit in Syria, we were able to document the following damage:
The looting spread disastrously on various areas within the archaeological site and in the area of necropolis outside the walls. The worst act is bulldozing the surface layer in a longitudinal manner and at a depth of approximately 50 cm to reveal the first archaeological levels and uncover the walls or the location and the entrance of the tombs. In addition to these pits, there are other deeper ones that were filled after the looting was completed. Heavy machinery was also used for digging and paving.
In addition to the vandalism caused by looting and the use of heavy bulldozers, we noticed some acts of sabotage in the Roman house, which was uncovered and restored by the Syrian-Lebanese Mission, parts of the mosaic painting preserved in one of the rooms of this Roman house were distort. We also noted the construction of a modern cement building near the Byzantine mausoleum, known as the Tomb of Nabi Houri.
We can conclude that the situation at Cyrrhus is no different from other sites in the rest of Syria, the site was looted and vandalized, this damage, were almost non-existent between 2011 and 2018 increased disastrously in 2018. The looting took place outside the southern wall and in the southern and eastern part of the site caused serious damage to the archaeological levels. We noted the use of heavy machinery during looting, and to facilitate the entry of these machines into the site a breach was drilled in the south wall of the city.The castle area is still intact and has not been hit by damage We did not notice any military presence at the site except for the building near by the Byzantine mausoleum or the so-called Nabi Houri, where is a police guard post.
Worst of all, there are no attempts to protect and preserve these sites from the civilian or military authorities controlling the area, and there is no clear plan for the protection of cultural heritage. Despite all the calls and we have made to take action on the protection of these areas, but we have not received any response to date.