How the strong quakes in Turkey, Syria destroyed a 2,000-year-old castle and other ancient monuments

The 7.8 magnitude earthquake in Turkey and Syria claimed more than 7,800 lives, leaving many more injured. The tremors and the aftershocks were so strong that they flattened several thousand buildings – 6,000 and counting – and caused damage to centuries-old monuments in the region, those that have stood as a testimony to its rich cultural heritage. A Roman-era castle and ancient mosques in Turkey and Syria developed more than just cracks. We take a look at the devastation.

A quake that hit south-eastern Turkey was so powerful that it caused a 2,000-year-old castle in the city of Gaziantep to crumble. Photographs and video footage of the Gaziantep Castle built during the Roman Empire, in the 2nd and 3rd Centuries, showed that parts of its stone walls had collapsed.

Some of the bastions in the east, south and south-east parts of the historical Gaziantep Castle in the central Şahinbey district were destroyed by the earthquake; the debris was scattered on the road, according to reports by Turkish state-run news agency Anadolu. The iron railings around the court were scattered on the surrounding sidewalks. The retaining wall next to the castle also collapsed. In some bastions, large cracks were observed after the earthquake, the report added.

Parts of the hilltop monument are said to be dated back to the Hittite empire. Later, it was built as a watchtower during the Roman empire which expanded over time. According to Turkish Museums, the official site of museums and archaeological sites in the country, the structure was turned into a castle during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian (527-565 CE), who was called the “Architect of Castles”. Before the quake, Gaziantep Castle served as a museum.

Next to the castle stands the historic Şirvani mosque, which is one of the oldest in the city of Gaziantep. The dome and the eastern wall of the monument also collapsed during the quake, according to the Turkish publication Daily Sabah. The mosque is said to have been built in the 17th Century. Unlike most mosques, its minarets have two balconies. The mosque was renovated in 1681 but it is believed to have been built as a “semhane”, where dervishes performed their spiritual dance.

The historic Yeni Camii, also called New Mosque, in Malatya, Turkey has also been severely damaged. The mosque was restored and opened for worship last year, according to Daily Sabah. The monument was constructed on the site of the HacıYusuf Mosque. Yeni Camii was destroyed in the earthquake on 3 March 1894, known in Maltaya as the “Great Earthquake”. However, it was reconstructed with the help of the public and the contributions of Abdülhamid II, the sultan of the Ottoman Empire from 1876 to 1909.

The mosque was once again damaged in the March 1964 quake. It developed cracks in the dome; some of its walls and top stones of the cone fell off, reports Daily Sabah. It was repaired and large minarets were installed. Now once again the monument stands damaged.

The ancient city of Aleppo, home to several UNESCO World Heritage structures, has already been ravaged by the Syrian war. Now there is fear that the earthquake could have caused more destruction. Reports on social media suggest that the west gate to Aleppo’s old city was damaged. The Mamluk tower gate and the minaret of the Ayyubid mosque of the Citadel of Aleppo have also been reportedly affected by the quake.

One of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, Aleppo preserves remnants of more than four millennia of history. The majority of the structures on the citadel were erected by the Ayyubids in the 12th and 13th Centuries, but substantial structures are also preserved from the Ottoman period (beginning in the 16th century). The citadel was built on a natural limestone outcropping rising some 100 feet above the level of the surrounding plain, according to the World Monuments Fund, a New York-based independent organisation that works toward safeguarding heritage sites.

The Citadel, the 12th-century Great Mosque and various 16th and 17th-centuries madrasas, residences, khans and public baths, all form part of the city’s cohesive, unique urban fabric. With evidence of past occupation by civilizations dating back to the 10th century BC, the citadel contains the remains of mosques, palace and bath buildings, says UNESCO. With the earthquake, many lives have been lost and pieces of history damaged.