Amrit is an ancient Phoenician site located on the Mediterranean coast of Syria. Having settled the island of Arwad, a short distance offshore, the Phoenicians subsequently established a number of settlements on the mainland. Tartous and Amrit were two of the settlements located closest to the island. Amrit, known to the Greeks as Marathos, is thought to have been used as a suburb or religious center. Arwad and Tartous remain occupied today, but Amrit was destroyed in the third century B.C. and only a few physical remains survive. The most prominent is the temple, consisting of a small elevated cella in the middle of a large square court defined by a colonnade. This arrangement emphasizes open space, characteristic of the historic architecture of the region. Amrit was included in the 2004 and 2006 Watch lists to draw attention to the site’s accelerating deterioration and to its vulnerability to vandalism. The widening of a highway leading to Tartous from the south led to new archaeological discoveries, including decorated tombs, but has also jeopardized the site’s integrity.
2004 and 2006 World Monuments Watch
After Amrit was successfully nominated to the 2004 Watch, WMF mounted a mission to assess the needs of the site in January 2005. It was discovered that a number of other activities in the area had the potential to impact the site even more severely than the highway project and that a site management plan was urgently needed. At the invitation of UNESCO, WMF organized a three-day workshop on the management of the sites of Amrit, Arwad, and Tartous. The workshop took place in February 2006 in Tartous, in collaboration with Syria’s Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums. The participants included various representatives of the Syrian government, local administrators responsible for the three sites, non-governmental organizations, as well as Syrian and international experts. For many of the stakeholders, this workshop represented the first opportunity to deliberate on the future of the site. At the time of the workshop, some local tourism plans involved new development on a wide strip of landfill stretching along most of the Tartous waterfront. Construction began in April 2006 and the $650 million project is still ongoing.
Due to the site’s decline from prominence in the Greek and Roman eras, the Phoenician monuments of Amrit did not undergo alterations later in their history. As a result, in contrast to nearby sites like Arwad and Tartous, Amrit today preserves Phoenician remains of the highest significance. Phoenician culture is known for its openness to outside influences, making Amrit a highly important site for archaeologists to study. Both Arwad and Tartous, though not Amrit, have been part of the Syrian Arab Republic’s Tentative World Heritage List since 1999.