NEW YORK, 18th May, 2016 (WAM) — The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, UNESCO, has strongly condemned the severe damage caused by an air-strike to the Church of Saint Simeon, part of the UNESCO World Heritage property of the Ancient Villages of Northern Syria. The byzantine Church was built in the year 490 AD on Mount Simeon and used to be a popular destination for worshippers and tourists alike.

Ms. Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, has deplored the heavy damage incurred by the historic byzantine Church of Saint-Simeon, part of the UNESCO World Heritage property of the Ancient Villages of Northern Syria, possibly as a result of an air strike on 12th May last.

“I again reiterate my call on all parties to the conflict to refrain from any military use and from targeting cultural heritage sites and monuments across all of Syria, in respect of their obligations under international treaties, particularly the 1954 UNESCO Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and its two Protocols, as well as the 1972 World Heritage Convention,” she said.

UNESCO has received information and photographic evidence revealing that the Church appears to have suffered extensive damage, including to the remains of the pillars on which Saint Simeon is said to have spent forty years as an hermit.

“Cultural heritage is part of the communities’ memory and identity and is a significant resource for future reconciliation and sustainable development. This is why it must be respected and protected by all means,” the Director-General added.

The Church of Saint Simeon Stylites is part of the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Ancient Villages of Northern Syria, some 40 villages grouped in eight parks situated in north-western Syria that provide remarkable testimony to rural life in late Antiquity and during the Byzantine period. Abandoned in the 8th to 10th centuries, the villages, which date from the 1st to 7th centuries, feature a remarkably well preserved landscape and the architectural remains of dwellings, pagan temples, churches, cisterns, bathhouses etc.

The relict cultural landscape of the villages also constitutes an important illustration of the transition from the ancient pagan world of the Roman Empire to Byzantine Christianity. Vestiges illustrating hydraulic techniques, protective walls and Roman agricultural plot plans furthermore offer testimony to the inhabitants’ mastery of agricultural production.

WAM/AAMIR