Credit Gregoiro Borgia/Associated Press
ROME — A statue of a human-headed winged bull from the Northwest Palace in Nimrud, Iraq, that was bulldozed by the Islamic State last year to great outcry has been faithfully recreated using modern technology and put on exhibit at the Colosseum in Rome to spur discussion of the possible reconstruction of war-torn archaeological sites.
Full-scale reconstructions were also made of two damaged Syrian sites: the archive room of Ebla and a portion of a ceiling from the Temple of Bel in Palmyra, as examples of how conflict can devastate a nation’s fragile heritage.
“Nimrud was the first place to be destroyed,” said Frances Pinnock, the co-director of the Ebla expedition, the most important Italian archaeological expedition to Syria. “It was a palace known as the Versailles of the ancient Near East, and so it was chosen because it was symbolic.”
“We included Ebla because it represents abandonment, what happens to a site when a mission is no longer present to protect it,” said Ms. Pinnock, who is a member of the scientific committee for the exhibit.
“And Palmyra is a wound” and a place of violent murders, not just of Khalid al-Asaad, the retired chief of antiquities for Palmyra, who was killed in August 2015, three months after the Islamic State took the city, “but of more than a dozen employees, killed in brutal ways only because they tried to protect the heritage,” Ms. Pinnock said.
Though the violence in the Middle East continues, archaeologists and officials from various international organizations continue to explore various options for the reconstruction of archaeological sites in Syria and Iraq once the fighting has abated.
“There’s a lot of discussion over how to reconstruct what is lost,” said Stefano De Caro, the director general of the International Center for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property, based in Rome, who is also on the scientific committee. “This is one proposal combining technical documentation and manual skill.”
This is not the first attempt to resurrect ancient art from the ashes of war.
Last month, a replica of an ancient arch from Palmyra, destroyed a year ago, was erected in City Hall Park in New York. That model was made using 3-D scanning, but it is smaller than the original, and less finished, some officials here suggested.
The Italian models are one-to-one reconstructions based on extensive documentation of various kinds. After being created using 3-D printing techniques, the reproductions were then covered with a layer of plastic material mixed with stone powder and finished by hand to replicate the original as closely as possible.
Ms. Pinnock noted that the restorer based in Florence who completed the Nimrud statue even included scratches on the surface, “to give the sense of passing time.”
Such minute detail was possible because the restorer worked from high-definition photographs taken by United States military officers and later stored in Mosul, she said. “We have shown that scientifically it is possible to do good work.”
The Ebla reconstruction was accomplished by a company based in Rome that specializes in film sets and props, while the Bel temple ceiling was made by a company in Ferrara that already works in casting copies.
“These aren’t just isolated objects,” but markers of a civilization’s “history, context and value,” brought alive “thanks to Italian know how,” said Francesco Rutelli, a former mayor of Rome and culture minister and the driving force behind the exhibit. “This is also an Italian story that you see here today.”
On display are also two marble busts from the museum in Palmyra that were damaged during the 10-month occupation by the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. “We baptized them the war-wounded of Palmyra,” Mr. Rutelli said.
The badly damaged sculptures were brought to Italy so that they could be restored, making an arduous journey from Damascus to Rome via Beirut, Lebanon.
“The only artifacts to leave Syria have been part of the illicit trafficking trade, but these came out with an accord,” Mr. Rutelli said.
Even though it is “very rare during a conflict that a corridor for culture opens,” he said, Damascus cultural officials had allowed the sculptures to travel because they knew the pieces would be in good hands, and on display in a prestigious spot where the plight of Syrian art would reach many.
“The Colosseum is the most visited site in our country,” Francesco Prosperetti, the art official responsible for Rome’s main archaeological area, said in a statement.
It was chosen to give maximum visibility to a “global message on the importance of cultural heritage and its value as part of national identity, on the need to protect it, preserve it, restore it and in some cases rebuild it,” he said.