Last week, Swiss officials confiscated nine cultural
relics believed to have been stolen from Syria’s ancient city of Palmyra, Yemen
and Libya. The artifacts include a sculpted head of Aphrodite from 1st
century B.C. Libya, two funeral bas-reliefs from pre-3rd century
Palmyra and five pieces from Yemen. The confiscation of the prized pieces follows
UNESCO’s recent addition of five sites in Libya and two in Yemen to the
organization’s List of World Heritage in Danger.
Palmyra, a UNESCO World Heritage site of immense cultural value, was devastated
by ISIS before the city was recaptured in March 2016. The group destroyed,
(a poorly understood yet highly profitable ISIS practice) many of the city’s
ancient temples and relics.
While the post-Arab Spring spread of instability in
Syria, Yemen, and Libya may have created conditions favorable for the theft of
the relics, the nine items seized by Swiss authorities are believed to have
arrived in the country in 2009 and 2010 after
traveling through Qatar. In Switzerland, the pieces were deposited in the Geneva
Freeport which has come under criticism for offering, along with other free
ports, a duty-free and highly secured warehouse which can serve as a safe house
for thieves of relics and art. However, criminal proceedings were initiated
after an April 2013 customs inspection raised red flags over the origins of the
pieces and a Bern-based expert confirmed that the pieces were genuine. According
the relics will be on public display in the Geneva Museum of Art and History
before being returned to their countries of origin.
The Washington Post:
relics had been placed in the Geneva Free Ports, a special duty-free zone for
storage, in 2009 and 2010, before the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings and the later
emergence of the radical Islamic State group.
prosecutor’s office said Friday that a customs check in 2013 raised suspicions
that the relics had been stolen, prompting a look by cultural experts and later
a criminal probe.
says the Aphrodite head from Libya dates from before the 1st century B.C. and
the bas-reliefs were from before the 3rd century in Palmyra, a UNESCO World
Heritage site later damaged by IS.”