A monumental recreation of the destroyed Arch of Triumph in Palmyra, Syria, has been unveiled in London’s Trafalgar Square.
The 1,800-year-old arch was destroyed by Islamic State militants last October and the 6-metre (20ft) model, made in Italy from Egyptian marble, is intended as an act of defiance: to show that restoration of the ancient site is possible if the will is there.
It was unveiled by the mayor of London, Boris Johnson, who said people were there in solidarity with the people of Syria and “in defiance of the barbarians who destroyed the original”.
He said: “For 2,000 years Palmyra stood in a desert, for 2,000 years warriors, generals, conquerors have come and gone. All of them have brought their languages and cultures and religions and deities and each succeeding generation has found something to admire in the inheritance when they arrived.
“The temples of Mesopotamian divinities became Greek temples then Roman temples then churches and then mosques ... and they admired that arch, no one was so savage, so nihilistic, so pitifully inadequate as to want to destroy it.”
He congratulated Oxford’s Institute for Digital Archaeology (IDA), which is behind the project. “How many digits do Daesh [Isis] deserve? Two digits to Daesh from London!”
Roger Michel, director of the IDA, said: “No one would have seriously considered leaving London in ruins after the blitz.
“Monuments – as embodiments of history, religion, art and science – are significant and complex repositories of cultural narratives. No one should consider for one second giving terrorists the power to delete such objects from our collective cultural record.
“When history is erased in this fashion, it must be promptly and, of course, thoughtfully restored.”
The arch, weighing 11 tonnes, was unveiled after a six-hour installation process.
Maamoun Abdulkarim, director general of Syria’s antiquities and museums, said the recreated arch served as a model for how Palmyra would be restored in what would be a message of peace.
“The life of the Syrian people rests on their cultural identity, and Palmyra represents one of the most unique and exceptional cultural heritage sites, not just in Syria but the whole world.
“We know that the plans to restore Palmyra to its former glory are grand, but they can be realised if the task is treated as a global mission.”
The arch is being installed as part of World Heritage Week and will stand in London for three days before being put on public display in Dubai and New York.
The IDA said it had been both an engineering and digital technology challenge.
Alexy Karenowska, who led the IDA team, said it would provide people with a chance to celebrate the rich history of north Africa and the Middle East.
“Without reconstructions, destroyed sites will, in time, be swallowed by the sands and forgotten, and with them the history for which they provided the last remaining visual cues.
“The IDA is dedicated to resisting that cycle and helping to preserve the history of a region that defined the artistic, literary, scientific and architectural traditions of the world.”