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As the Islamic State took over large swaths of Syria and Iraq, it targeted ancient treasures for destruction - sculptures and temples that were the region's cultural heritage. As NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports, replicas of several vandalised masterpieces are now on exhibit at Rome's Colosseum.
SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: This guide is showing a tourist group the Colosseum.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: People started calling the amphitheater from the Colossus - the Colossus that was outside it. This is why everybody calls it the Colosseum.
POGGIOLI: While the ancient Romans saw a Colossus - a large statue outside the Roman amphitheater - today, visitors can admire a new one inside - the human-headed, winged bull that stood outside the palace at Nimrud in Iraq. Standing some 16-feet high, it's a life-size replica of the original that was bulldozed into dust by the Islamic State last year in what had been the capital of the Assyrian Empire, founded in the 13th century BC. Art historian and restoration expert Cristina Acidini supervised the reconstructions of the artworks in this exhibit that's called Rising From Destruction.
CRISTINA ACIDINI: The winged bull was extremely challenging because of the size.
POGGIOLI: Acidini says specially trained technicians worked on photographs to create a small-scale model. And then, thanks to 3D printers and other state-of-the-art technology, the replica was created in several pieces.
ACIDINI: And then has been hardened with a special varnish. And after the hardening process, has been totally covered by layers and layers of real stone - three kinds of stones that have been grinded like dust.
POGGIOLI: And then, says Acidini, the pieces were assembled here inside the coliseum, like a giant, three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle. The other full scale-replicas in the Colosseum are the reconstruction of a room in Ebla, Syria, where ancient archives had been discovered, and a portion of the ceiling from the 2000-year-old Temple of Bel in Palmyra, the UNESCO World Heritage Site that had some of the Middle East's best-preserved antique artifacts. Francesco Rutelli, curator of the exhibit, explains its message.
FRANCESCO RUTELLI: To show that all has been destroyed can be reconstructed.
POGGIOLI: Rutelli, who was once Italy's culture minister, says one country's cultural heritage is important for all humankind.
RUTELLI: Because it is our heritage, not only the Syrian or Iraqi or Afghani or Latin American. It's a universal heritage.
POGGIOLI: During its 10-month occupation of Palmyra, the Islamic State razed two ancient temples and a triumphal arch. They also beheaded the archaeologist who had been Palmyra's custodian for 40 years because he refused to reveal the location of many artifacts he had hidden. The Rome exhibit also contains two ancient marble busts damaged during ISIS's occupation of Palmyra and which will be restored here.
Rutelli calls them the war-wounded of Palmyra. The curator says that while during a war it's very rare to open up a corridor for culture, the busts were able to arrive in Rome thanks to a complicated diplomatic effort and the cooperation of both the Syrian Directorate of Antiquities and members of the opposition.
RUTELLI: It's a very rare question. We have to recognize that there are people who do not resign when the danger comes.
POGGIOLI: The exhibit, Rising From Destruction, will be on display until December 16. Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome.
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