Lonely Planet Writer

Syria's ancient city of Palmyra may open for tourists again in 2019

The destruction of Palmyra in 2015 made headlines all over the world as many lamented the loss of this ancient wonder in the Syrian Civil War. Now with extensive restoration work already underway, there are hopes it could open to tourists again as early as 2019.

Monumental Arch, Palmyra. Photo by Nick Brundle Photography

Palmyra was once one of the most important cultural centres of the ancient world, and the destruction of its stunning ruins are one of the most visible signs of the war on the country’s landscape. ISIS occupied the historic site twice, demolishing many of its ancient wonders – including temples, columns and the Arch of Triumph – but it has been under Syrian government control since March 2017.

Unesco is in charge of the restoration and recovery of the site and now hopes it will be ready to welcome tourists again in summer 2019. The ancient city lies in the province of Homs, and the governor told Sputnik News there is plenty of international cooperation in the mission.

Palmyra could once again become a tourist draw. Photo by Erdal Akan/500px

“This is the world’s history and it belongs not only to Syria”, he said. “There are also good offers from the world powers to restore the artefacts and historical value of Palmyra”. Many of the remnants of the statues were transported to Damascus, where they are being restored with the help of experts from Moscow.

Despite the optimistic view of a summer reopening, it’s unlikely tourists will be flocking back so soon. Government warnings against all travel to Syria are still in place and it is not advised that people visit in any capacity.

The country is still a warzone and it is expected the last major battle of the war will occur shortly in Idlib. The northwestern city is the only remaining rebel stronghold in Syria and a government offensive is expected shortly, though negotiations are underway to try and prevent a full-scale military operation. In other areas of the country however, inhabitants are already are turning their thoughts towards the future after seven years of bloody conflict.

Aleppo Bazaar before the war. Photo by Izzet Keribar

Rebuilding efforts are underway in many parts of the country including Aleppo, where 30% of the Old City was destroyed completely and a further 60% severely damaged. The reconstruction includes hotels that are already re-opening and even a training programme for new tour guides.

The Times UK reports that a small number of people have ignored government warnings to pay a visit to the city already, despite fighting still happening in the suburbs. You can stay up to date with the latest travel warnings via the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office.