Over the course of time, the world has been riddled with multiple wars that have caused damage and destruction in their wake. Many cultural structures across Europe and Asia were destroyed during these wars. 

Here are 15 cultural structures that were destroyed in the course of wars, to be lost forever. 

1. Vijećnica or City Hall, Sarajevo, Bosnia

The historic City Hall in Sarajevo was situated at the intersection of three major streets in the city, symbolic of the multiculturalism of Bosnia. Built-in the early 1890s, the cultural structure honoured the rich Muslim background of the Austro-Hungarian territory of Sarajevo. 

The pseudo-Moorish facade was inspired by Cairo’s Mamluk-period buildings. In 1949, the building was converted into a thriving Library.

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The Reconstructed City Hall in Sarajevo, Bosnia. ©Aktron / Wikimedia Commons

In 1992, the building went up in flames when it was ravaged by heavy artillery and incendiary bombs, in the Siege of Sarajevo. Almost two million books were destroyed in the havoc, along with multiple decorative elements that imparted a sense of glory to the structure. 

In May 2014, the reconstructed cultural structure opened to the public, in time to mark the centenary of World War I. Vijećnica now houses two libraries, a museum, and the city council.

2. Buddhas of Bamiyan, Afghanistan

The ancient sandstone carvings of Buddha in Bamiyan were once the tallest monuments of Buddha in the world. Carved into the side of a cliff in the 6th Century, the revered holy site housed a Buddha that was over 170 meters in height. The renowned Chinese traveler Xuanzang described that thousands of monks would flock near the statues, to receive blessings.

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Engraving From Alexander Burnes’ Travels Depicting the Buddhas of Bamiyan. ©Wikimedia Commons

In 2001, these cultural structures were brutally annihilated over the course of several weeks, by the Taliban. This abominable act followed the command of Mullah Mohammed Omar, a spiritual leader, who ordered the destruction of all idolatrous statues in the country. The act of destruction shocked the world and unfortunately set the precedent for the vandalism of culturally prominent Iraqi heritage sites.

3. Great Mosque, Aleppo, Syria

Located in Aleppo’s old walled city, the Great Mosque was built between the 8th and 13th centuries. It is believed to house the remains of prophet Zechariah, father of John the Baptist. A UNESCO world heritage site, the magnificent structure’s minaret was destroyed in 2013, in the course of the Syrian Civil War. 

The mosque itself was extensively damaged, and the scars of the war are seen on its walls. It remains unclear as to what caused the minaret to topple, with parties turning the blame on each other. 

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Destruction of the Great Mosque in Aleppo, Syria. ©George Ourfalian/ AFP
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The Great Mosque in Aleppo. ©Wikimedia Commons

At the time of the catastrophic event, the mosque was occupied by anti-government forces, and then-President Bashar al-Assad’s regime blamed a group linked to al-Qaeda for all the damages. On the other hand, the rebels blamed the Syrian Army for opening fire on the holy site. 

4. Temple of Bel, Palmyra, Syria

Built in the 1st Century, the Temple was the center of religious life in Palmyra. It was consecrated to worship the Mesopotamian God Bel, in addition to the sun god Yarhibol, and the lunar God Aglibol. The temple site contained approximately 1000 columns, more than 500 tombs, and a Roman aqueduct, and provided a window into the rich history of Palmyra. 

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Remains of the Temple of Bel, Palmyra. ©Wikimedia Commons

The ruins of this cultural structure were considered to be best-preserved in the city, till it was destroyed and turned into dust, by ISIS in 2015. The attack on the nearly 2,000-year-old Temple followed a similar ghastly attack on the Temple of Baalshamin, another revered religious temple in Palmyra. 

5. Gates of Nineveh, Iraq

The ancient Assyrian city of Nineveh was guarded by a number of gates, the most majestic ones being Mashqi Gate or the Gate of God, and the Adad Gate. The Gate was believed to have been used to take livestock and water from the Tigris River. 

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Mashqi Gate or The Gate of God. ©Lachicaphoto/Flickr

Nineveh dates back to the 7th century and was believed to be one of the largest cities in the world. It was also one of the earliest cities to be referenced in the Bible. Sadly, as a part of their campaign against cultural structures, relics, and sites, in 2016, ISIS destroyed both the gates and by doing so, wiped out a piece of history.

6. Jonah’s Tomb, Iraq

Believed to be the final resting place of the Prophet Younis, or Jonah in the Bible,  the mosque dates back to the 8th Century. The cultural structure in Mosul was of great importance to both the Muslim and Christian faiths. 

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Depiction of Jonah’s Tomb in Iraq.  ©themindcircle.com

In July 2014, the revered religious structure was blown up by ISIS rebels, also damaging several neighborhood houses in the process. The militants claimed that the horrific act was a mark of protest against the mosque being an apostasy, instead of a humble place of worship. 

7. Old Summer Palace, Beijing, China

The 19th Century Palace was the primary residence of the Qing Dynasty and had picturesque temples, elegant pavilions, and luscious, gorgeous gardens on its grounds. In the Second Opium War, in 1860, French and British troops razed the scenic complex to the ground. 

Currently, the regal Palace grounds welcome visitors who can roam in a beautiful park that houses the ruins of the Summer Palace. A full-scale replica of the palace opened at a film studio, Hengdian World Studios, in Dongyang. It accurately portrays the lost heritage of the Palace. 

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Remains of the Old Summer Palace, amidst a garden.  ©Wikimedia Commons

8. Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, Hiroshima, Japan

This cultural landmark in Japan was designed in 1915, by renowned Czech architect Jan Letzel. In the course of World War II, when the U.S. Army dropped the atomic bomb over the city in 1945, the structure suffered prominent damage. It remains one of the few structures in Hiroshima that was not totally decimated by the bomb and is called the A-Bomb Dome. 

The remains of the Hall lie in the midst of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and have become a jarring symbol for lasting international peace. The Park was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. 

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Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, or the A-Dome.  ©Wikimedia Commons

9. Valletta or The Royal Opera House, Malta

This magnificent structure that exuded grandeur, was designed by architect Edward Middleton Barry, with its doors opening to the public in 1866. The Opera House was the most exquisite, and iconic buildings in Malta before it was reduced to debris as a result of the Luftwaffe bombings in 1942, during World War II. 

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Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, or the A-Dome. ©Wikimedia Commons

Continued efforts to reconstruct the theatre and give it some form of semblance to the iconic Valletta, proved to be fruitful when it reopened as Pjazza Teatru Rjal in 2013; an open-air theatre in the midst of the former Royal Opera House’s ruins. 

This aimed to preserve Malta’s cultural heritage while encouraging contemporary and trending forms of production in the artistic space.

10. St. Michael’s Old Cathedral, Coventry, England

The Gothic church was constructed between the late 14th and early 15th centuries and was breathtakingly beautiful. The iconic structure was destroyed to smithereens in the devastating Luftwaffe bombings in 1940, with only the spire, tower, and outer walls intact. 

The cathedral was too badly damaged to be rebuilt but to mark the importance of the cultural structure and protect its memory, a new cathedral was unveiled twelve years after its destruction, alongside the ruins of the old church. The result was a stellar structure that beautifully merged Coventary’s rich medieval and modern history. 

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The Rebuilt Coventry Church Perfectly Blends with the Medieval Ruins. ©Wikimedia Commons

11. Stari Most, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Commissioned by the Ottoman ruler, Sulaiman the Magnificent, the Stari Most or Mostar bridge was a cultural icon and an exceptional rendition of Islamic architecture. It was 30 meters long, and 27 meters high; a structural marvel whose praise found its way in many travelers’ anecdotes. 

In the war between Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1993, the stone bridge that was supposedly made of mortar made from egg-whites collapsed as a result of repeated shelling by the Corat military forces. The reasons cited for the destruction of the bridge were strategic in nature, but this is quite disputed. 

In July 2004, the reconstructed bridge opened to the public and became a symbol of reconciliation. 

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The Reconstructed Stari Most Bridge is a Symbol of Reconciliation. ©Wikimedia Commons

12. Serbian Orthodox Churches, Kosovo

The magnificent Serbian Orthodox churches of Kosovo were architectural icons that were rich in culture and heritage and included the medieval World Heritage Sites of Visoki Decani and Gracanica monasteries, in addition to the Church of the Virgin of Ljevisa. 

Between 1999 and 2004, ethnic Albanian groups destroyed over 150 Orthodox churches in Kosovo, including the Visoki Decani Monastery, shrouding the cultural structures of Kosovo in a veil of darkness associated with ethnic violence. In 2006, 143 Kosovar Albanians were convicted, in accordance with international proceedings, for the cultural crime. 

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Interiors of the 14th Century Visoki Decani Monastery in Kosovo. ©Danita Delimont/Alamy

13. Al-Omari Mosque, Gaza 

Dating back to the Medieval Mamluk period, the Al-Omari Mosque, or the Great Mosque as it was known by locals, stood at the center of Jabaliya and was a symbol of peace and prosperity. It was built in 647 AD and provided a rich perspective into Medieval Islamic architecture. Sadly, it was bombed in 2014, as a result of the long-standing conflict between Israel and Palestine. 

The Israeli special operation, ‘Protective Edge’ was responsible for damaging 203 mosques, and completely ruining 73. Israel claimed that the Omari mosque was destroyed as they believed it was a front for weapons repository and had Hamas training facilities. 

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Al-Omari Mosque or the Great Mosque of Gaza. ©Wikimedia Commons

14. Leuven University Library, Belgium 

This historic cultural structure in Belgium had the misfortune of being destroyed in both World Wars. In World War I, the 17th Century building went up in flames, when the Germans set fire to it, destroying thousands of books along with it. 

After it was rebuilt with pomp and grandeur in the Flemish style of architecture, only to be destroyed in 1940, during the German invasion of Leuven. Thankfully, many of its oldest, most prized documents had already been moved at that time. 

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The New Leuven Library in Belgium. ©Wikimedia Commons

15. Cultural Structures of Warsaw, Poland

The Old Town of Warsaw was dynamically rich in heritage and culture, with castles, municipal buildings, and churches. While aerial bombardment irreparably damaged several European cities such as Coventry, the entire city of Warsaw was completely leveled as part of the Nazi regime to covert the occupants into a slave race. 

Entire statues were carted off, and city blocks, including the majestic castle. A few years after the war, the charm of Old Town was reinstated and the city was rebuilt using old paintings, photographs, and secret plans.

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Aerial Bombing of Warsaw in World War II. ©Wikimedia Commons

Cultural structures all around the world have succumbed to the perils of war. While most of these structures may not have been targeted intentionally, the response to this devastation was the formation of the Hague Convention in 1954, which aimed to protect cultural property in the event of armed conflicts. 

These international agreements state that the destruction of cultural structures, or even merely targeting them is a war crime.

Author

Deeksha Kamath is a fresh graduate from Manipal School of Architecture and Planning, India, with a penchant for writing. She believes that words, when strung together beautifully, can evoke the greatest emotions in readers. With this precept, she aspires to proliferate her love for architecture, through her writing.

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