We were all horrified at the sacking of the libraries and museums of Baghdad, the cannoning of the great Buddhas in Afghanistan, and the destruction of Palmyra in Syria, but a surprising amount has been saved -- because of the heroism of archivists.
A wonderful article in the latest New York Review of Books -- of which this is a very short extract:
In almost every major modern conflict in which efforts to save art
and historical monuments have had substantial success, they have
depended on the actions of local curators, art historians, and activists
rather than international laws or foreign interventions.
the civil war in Beirut (1975–1990), when the National Museum of Beirut
was on the front lines of the conflict, it was the museum’s own curator,
Emir Maurice Chehab, who saved much of the collection, including
Phoenician sarcophagi and monumental statuary, by encasing them in
concrete in the basement.
In Afghanistan, the Bamiyan Buddhas were lost,
despite huge international outcry; but the National Museum’s Bactrian
Hoard—more than 20,000 extraordinary gold, silver, and ivory objects
from a Bronze Age burial site—was quietly saved, thanks to the courage
and ingenuity of a group of Afghan curators who kept them hidden for
years in a vault under the Central Bank in Kabul. And in Timbuktu, when
jihadists overran the city in 2012, intent on wiping out the city’s
extraordinary medieval Islamic heritage, it was local librarians who
spirited away to safety thousands of rare manuscripts—by truck and
noted, local preservationists have already proven crucial in the Syrian
One of the most striking cases is the Ma’arra Mosaic
Museum in a region of Idlib Province in northwestern Syria that has been
bitterly fought between various rebel groups and the regime. The
museum, which occupies a historic Ottoman Caravansarai, was hit twice by
the regime in a barrel-bomb attack in June 2015 and in a second air
strike in May of this year. But its collection of large-scale Roman and
Byzantine mosaics—including an extraordinary series depicting the life
of Hercules—has largely survived because of the efforts of a group of
local activists, who had encased the works in protective glue and
sheeting, covered by sandbags, a few months before the first attack, and
resandbagged before the second one.