At Large  February 8, 2023  Rebecca Schiffman

Earthquake in Turkey Damages Cultural Heritage Sites

(DIA images via AP)

People walk next to a mosque destroyed by an earthquake in Malatya, Turkey, Monday, Feb. 6, 2023. A powerful quake has knocked down multiple buildings in southeast Turkey and Syria and many casualties are feared.

On Monday February 6, at 4:17 am local time, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake hit Turkey and Syria, lasting over two minutes. According to the United States Geological Survey, the earthquake was also felt in Cyprus, Egypt, Israel, and Lebanon. Hours later, there was an unusually strong 7.5 magnitude tremor that struck an already battered Turkey, and over one hundred and twenty aftershocks have occurred.

As of publication, over 11,000 people were killed and tens of thousands injured. In one of the longest continuously inhabited areas on the planet, within the so called Fertile Crescent, we will continue to see impacts from the tragedy for months, if not years to come. Right now, rescuers are working through the night and in near-freezing temperatures to search for survivors in the rubble. This rubble, of buildings, homes, and heritage sites, has already been assessed by the Turkish government and cultural organizations and the losses are eminent in the archaeological and historical sites that pepper this area.

UNESCO announced their initial survey of the damage, and so far the cultural sites in Turkey affected from this earthquake are as follows: the historic Gaziantep Castle, the Diyarbakir Fortress, the Yeni Cami Mosque in Malayta, and the Hevsel Gardens Cultural Landscape. The famous archeological site Nemrut Dag in southeastern Turkey could also have been affected. And according to the AP, at least one hundred and fifty buildings have collapsed. 

Wikimedia Commons

The Castle (Kale) of Gaziantep, Turkey, 6 October 2008


Among the damaged sites, the Gaziantep Castle was first used as an observation point during the Hittite Empire. During the Roman Empire in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD, it was transformed and expanded into a castle. It has been occupied numerous times: from Byzantine Emperor Justinian I, to the Ayyubids in the 12th century, to the Ottoman Empire, this castle was of great importance in Turkish history. From this week’s pair of earthquakes, it has been reported that part of the Gaziantep Castle’s walls and watch towers were still standing. But other areas are seriously damaged, including the iron railings, walls, and bastions.

Another site that might be affected by this earthquake is Mount Nemrut, or Nemrud. This site is a 2,134 meter high mountain that is notable for its summit, where a number of large statues are erected around what historians believe to be a royal tomb from the 1st century BC. 

UNESCO director general, Audre Azolay said in a statement to Barrons, “Our organization will provide assistance within its mandate."

(AP Photo/Ghaith Alsayed)

Civil defense workers and residents search through the rubble of collapsed buildings in the town of Harem near the Turkish border, Idlib province, Syria, Monday, Feb. 6, 2023. 

According to CNN, UNESCO said that it would provide assistance to damaged heritage sites in Syria and Turkey, and the UN cultural organization was concerned about the situation of the cultural sites in Aleppo. 

The ancient city of Aleppo was located at the intersection of many trade routes in the 2nd century BCE, and had many rulers over its long history: Hittites, Assyrians, Arabs, Mongols, Mamelukes, and the Ottomans. Before the civil war in Syria, Aleppo was the country’s commercial hub, considered one of the world’s longest continuously inhabited cities. And since the civil war began, the citadel has been placed on the list of World Heritage site in Danger. The citadel holds the twelfth century Great Mosque along with several seventeenth century palaces, madrasas, and more.

Wikimedia Commons

Frontal view on the Citadel of Aleppo, 26 May 2010

Syria’s Directorate-General for Antiquities and Museums (DGAM) said in a statement that the ancient citadel of Aleppo had suffered minor and moderate damage. They reported that large parts of the dome of the lighthouse of the Ayubi Mosque had fallen, entrances to the castle were damaged, and various stone towers were effected. UNESCO said that the western tower of the old city wall had collapsed, and several buildings in the souks have been weakened. In addition, artifacts inside the National Museum of Aleppo were damaged. 

The first priority remains to find as many survivors as possible and try and rebuild homes and city centers. As for the cultural sites, with the current weather conditions and the remote areas where these sites are located, it has been difficult to get information on the extent to the damage. UNESCO is working with its expert team to establish an inventory of the damage with the aim of stabilizing these sites and rebuilding them.

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