10 Sacred Sites Damaged Or Destroyed In The Last 10 Years -- And What Some Are Doing To Rebuild

05/04/2015 12:15 pm ET | Updated May 04, 2015

Ten years ago, the 11th century minaret of the Umayyad Mosque stood in splendor above the city of Damascus, Syria. Today, the wreckage of the mosque offers a stark reminder of the cultural loss the world has experienced over the last ten years, as iconic spiritual sites have been destroyed as a result of war, short-sighted economic expansion and natural disasters.

Fortunately the human spirit can never be fully extinguished; and many communities have come together to rebuild some of these holy sites and re-envision sacred spaces for the future.

These ten religious sites are just some of many destroyed or greatly altered since 2005, and they act as a reminder of the important ancient heritage of our world religions -- and a rallying call to preserve others for the future.

  • 2015: Buddhist And Hindu Temples In Nepal Destroyed By Earthquake
    Dhilung Kirat/Wikipedia and AP
    A 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit Nepal in April, killing thousands and leveling many temples and sites of religious importance to the country's Buddhists and Hindus. Two particular sites important to Tibetan Buddhists were damaged: The Boudhanath Stupa, a fifth-century shrine built shortly after the death of Siddhartha, and Swayambhunath, a fifth-century stupa also called the “monkey temple” for a community of sacred monkeys that live onsite. Here, the ancient religious complex Swayambhunath is shown before and after the April 25th earthquake.
  • 2014-15: Ancient Religious Sites In Iraq Destroyed By ISIS
    M.chohan/Wikipedia and AP
    In July 2014, the group bombed the Prophet Jirjis Mosque and Shrine in Mosul, as well as a site said to be the tomb of Jonah. In March of this year militants demolished the ancient archaeological site of Hatra and Nimrud, according to the nation's Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities. “The birthplace of human civilization…is being destroyed," Kino Gabriel, a leader of the Syriac Military Council told The Guardian in February. Here, the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud is shown before and after the Islamic State reportedly blew it up on April 11, 2015.
  • 2013: Ancient Mayan Pyramid Leveled By Developers
    Getty Images and Jules Vasquez/
    In 2013, a construction company in Belize almost entirely destroyed one of the country's largest Mayan pyramids, Nohmul, in order to extract crushed rock for a road-building project. The sacred site dated back at least 2,300 years and was among the most important sites in northern Belize, according to the Belize Institute of Archaeology. On the left is a temple on the ancient Mayan archaeological site, Xunantunich, in 2012. By contrast, the Nohmul pyramid is now little more than a pile of stones.
  • 2013: Philippines Churches Leveled By Earthquake
    Malou Buenconsejo/Wikipedia and AP
    The 2013 Bohol earthquake destroyed some of the Philippines's oldest churches and damaged countless others. In Cebu, an island province in the Philippines, the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño was heavily damaged when its belfry collapsed. The church was founded by Spanish explorers in 1565, making it the oldest Roman Catholic church in the Philippines. Here the Maribojoc Church is shown before and after the earthquake.
  • 2013: Syria's Umayyad Mosque Destroyed In Civil War
    Getty Images
    The 11th-Century minaret of the Umayyad Mosque, a UNESCO world heritage site in Aleppo, was blown to pieces in 2013 during clashes between the al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra group and government forces. The iconic mosque was a key battleground during the summer of 2013, with rebels seeking the ouster of Bashar al-Assad's regime.
  • 2012: Tombs of Muslim Saints Destroyed By Militants In Timbuktu
    Getty Images
    In 2012 militants in Mali from the Ansar Dine group, which claimed allegiance to al-Qaeda, unleashed a campaign of destruction against the cultural and religious monuments of Timbuktu, bashing in the doors of a 15th century mosque and tearing down centuries-old tombs of Muslim holy men. Among the destroyed tombs were those of medieval Sufi saints Sidi Mahmoud, Sidi Moctar and Alpha Moya. A spokesman for Ansar Dine told the BBC that the group planned to destroy every Sufi shrine in the city, “without exception." Here a mosque in Timbuktu is shown beside a ancient shrine destroyed by militants.
  • 2011: Islamic Sites Destroyed Or Altered In Mecca's Development
    Getty Images
    In 2011, Saudi Arabia launched an expansion project in Mecca that has dramatically altered the face of the holy site Muslims around the world travel to for the hajj pilgrimage. The house of the Prophet’s first wife, Khadijah has been turned into public toilets, while the site of the house of Islam’s first caliph, Abu Bakr, now houses a Hilton hotel. The Kaaba, a famous building at the center of Mecca's main mosque, now stands in the shadow of one of the world’s tallest buildings, the Mecca Royal Clock Tower, part of a luxury mall and hotel complex. On the left is Mecca in 2005, and on the right is roughly the same shot in 2012. Already in 2005 the site had experienced major expansion over the decades -- which has only increased in recent years.
  • 2011: Christchurch Cathedral Destroyed By Earthquake
    Pablo Rodriguez Madroño/Flickr and AP
    A magnitude 6.3 earthquake hit the Canterbury Region in New Zealand's South Island on February 22, 2011, causing severe damage to the city of Christchurch and killing 185 people. The city's iconic Christchurch Cathedral sustained severe damage when its spire entirely collapsed. The congregation stood strong, however, moving worship to a transitional home built almost entirely out of cardboard.
  • 2010: Haitian Cathedral Destroyed By Earthquake
    With the collapse of the Port-au-Prince Cathedral in the 2010 earthquake, Haiti lost countless artifacts of cultural importance, including murals painted by some of the artists of the Haitian Renaissance in the 1940s. In 2012 the Archdiocese of Port-au-Prince launched a campaign to rebuild the structure, inviting architects around the world to submit proposals for the design.
  • 2008: Myanmar Temples Destroyed In Cyclone Nargis
    Getty Images and AP
    Cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar on May 2-3, 2008, devastating the Irrawaddy Delta region and killing some 84,500 people. According to the country's Ministry of Religious Affairs, more than 1,400 temples were damaged or destroyed in the region. On the left is a 2007 image of the Shwedagon Pagoda, a famous temple in Myanmar that sustained some damage in the cyclone. On the right is just one of many smaller pagodas and temples which were completely destroyed in the disaster.

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