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This Is What Palmyra Looks Like After Being Recaptured From ISIS

Historians had feared the worst when the ancient city was overtaken, but new photos show many of its ancient structures have survived.

Posted on March 28, 2016, at 11:42 p.m. ET

Syrian government forces on Sunday recaptured the ancient city of Palmyra from ISIS nearly a year after the 2,000-year-old site came under militant control.

Maher Al Mounes / AFP / Getty Images

On Monday, officials and archaeologists rushed to the city to assess the damage left by militants. In the first survey since the UNESCO world heritage site was retaken by the Syrian army, experts were surprised to find much of the city remains intact.

"We could have completely lost Palmyra," Syrian antiquities chief Maamoun Abdulkarim told AFP. "The joy I feel is indescribable."
Maher Al Mounes / AFP / Getty Images

"We could have completely lost Palmyra," Syrian antiquities chief Maamoun Abdulkarim told AFP. "The joy I feel is indescribable."

About 80% of the site remained intact, Abdulkarim told the Los Angeles Times.

Maher Al Mounes / AFP / Getty Images

But damage does exist. A massive explosion last fall destroyed the Temple of Bel, considered one of the most important religious buildings of its period in the Middle East.

MAHER AL MOUNES/AFP / Getty Images

Satellite photos earlier confirmed its destruction, but on Monday a photo definitively showed the rubble remaining of the temple. Graffiti on a wall read, "Shooting without the permission of the chief is prohibited."

MAHER AL MOUNES/AFP / Getty Images

Satellite photos earlier confirmed its destruction, but on Monday a photo definitively showed the rubble remaining of the temple. Graffiti on a wall read, "Shooting without the permission of the chief is prohibited."

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MAHER AL MOUNES/AFP / Getty Images

Satellite photos earlier confirmed its destruction, but on Monday a photo definitively showed the rubble remaining of the temple. Graffiti on a wall read, "Shooting without the permission of the chief is prohibited."

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Militants also last fall blew up the Arch of Triumph, which a UNESCO official at the time described as a "war crime."

MAHER AL MOUNES / AFP / Getty Images
MAHER AL MOUNES / AFP / Getty Images
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MAHER AL MOUNES / AFP / Getty Images

Still, Monday's findings gave hope to preservationists.

Stringer / AFP / Getty Images

"The straight street, the baths, the fences of the two temples...There is damage, yes, but the panoramic view that tourists know of Palmyra remains,” Abdelkarim told the Times.

An aerial view of the Roman theater in Palmyra is seen in this still image taken from video by RURTR.
Reuters TV / Reuters

An aerial view of the Roman theater in Palmyra is seen in this still image taken from video by RURTR.

The ancient city, which is northeast of Damascus, reached its height in the first and second centuries BCE. Its architecture and art combined styles of the Greek, Roman, Persian, and local traditions.

Stringer / AFP / Getty Images

The site grew from a caravan oasis to a great city and important trade stop. Rediscovery of its ruins in the 17th and 18th centuries inspired architecture revivals in the Western world, and earned it a UNESCO heritage site designation.

Stringer / AFP / Getty Images
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