Institut für die Kulturen des Alten Orients

The Restoration Works at Emar and Barbalissos

2002 - The Restoration of the Fortification of Barbalissos

According to archeological as well as to written material, the history of the ancient town of Emar came to an end in the first third of the 12th century BC. Many centuries passed before life stirred again in the ruins of Emar, presumably in Achemenian times. Apart from a Corinthian capital that came down to us as spoil we know about the Achemenian town of Bala or about the later Hellenistic and Roman towns only from texts. A change comes in Byzantine times. Justinian II let the eastern boundaries of his empire be secured by fortresses and the town that was now called Barbalissos be surrounded by strong walls. In the west, where the land rises and is most open to possible attacks, two mighty corner towers were added, spacious enough to house the guards and, at 25 meters, high enough to allow a far view into the Euphrates valley.

Due to its elevated position, this western part of the town-wall has survived to this day. The ruins of the southwestern corner tower and of the so-called praetorium in the north are still an impressive landmark that is visible from afar.

Southwest Tower

But with the winter storms, the lake continued to erode the banks and seriously threatened the existence of this cultural monument.

In this precarious situation, the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs came to the rescue and granted means with which the southwest tower was secured in 2000, already. In the first place, an access had to be prepared; for about half of its length, it is a dam newly piled up along the southern bank. The tower itself got a new foundation consisting of 90 m3 of cement; the façade was covered with original tiles gathered in the ruin.


The next object to be salvaged was the praetorium two walls of which – ruined but still 20 meters high – form the northwestern corner. Here, too, the further existence of the ruin was endangered by a deep gap in the corner. In the summer of 2001, the debris sloping in front of the wall was removed so that it was easier to estimate the extent of the damage. It became obvious that the western wall with its embrasures was almost completely intact.

In the summer of 2002 and again with the financial support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the northern bank was strengthened, the dangerous gap at the corner of the praetorium was filled and the façade covered with tiles baked in the traditional way. At the same time, the documentation of the ruin, financed by the University of Tübingen, was completed: an object of cultural heritage has been preserved, in reality and in scientific documentation.

2009 - Restoring the Temple of Ba’al

Findings of the excavation

For a better understanding of the restoration work it may be useful to show at first the original ground plan of the temple and the state of preservation at the outset of the restoring measures in September 2009.

Before the Assad reservoir had begun to be flooded, a French mission had already exposed the cella, the sanctuary of the temple. Made curious by the presence of a big gate-lion in the courtyard in front of the temple, the Syrian-German team began in 1998 to excavate the outer walls, the terrace in front of the cella and the large access up to the temple. It was still possible to determine the function of all elements of the building, but due to many years of looting up to 1991 they were in a very bad state of preservation. The plan (fig. 1) shows in detail which stones were extant and could be documented.

Luckily, most of the corners of the building were either preserved or could be inferred with certainty so that we were in possession of the most important data for the supplementation of the ground plan (see fig. 3). Furthermore, in the southwest corner of the cella the lowest course of the mud-brick superstructure was still visible (fig. 4) – indicating how high the stone foundations of the outer walls must have risen.

The situation before work was begun

Ten years had passed since the excavation of the temple of Ba’al; at that time it had already been much destroyed by lootings, ever since, erosion had produced its effects. In several instances it turned out to be impossible to pinpoint again findings that had been documented ten years before. Figures 2-4 render an impression of the deplorable condition of the building. We were strengthened in our determination to try a partial restoration and preserve this exceptional building as a testimony of the Late Bronze Age culture in Syria.

While the lower-lying parts of the temple, the substructure of the terrace as well as the stairs still provided sufficient substance, the western part of the north wall and the complete south wall were badly preserved, the west wall not at all. The NW corner of the temple (fig. 3) and the surviving mud bricks to be seen in figure 4 are the only items to deserve positive mention.

The Restoration

The restoration activities proper began on September 27 with first 18, later 24 workmen and two trained masons from the neighbouring villages Samuma and Hattin. Considering that the reconstruction of the temple was executed by the two masons and just three or four helpers, the number of workers seems very high. But the manpower was needed to collect the stones from the surroundings and to produce ca. 5000 mud bricks. At the end of the first week it was obvious that we could reach our aim only with additional working hours in the afternoon. After October 2 work time was from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

All stone foundations were built of unhewn stones, conglomerate stone for the outside, white limestone for the core. All stones were placed by hand and packed with mud thus corresponding by material and construction to the original walls. Lime or cement were not used at all.

Reconstruction was begun at the north wall, because its course was still laid out by stones in situ. The south wall and the wall dividing the cella from the outer room between the antae followed next (fig. 5), and lastly the retaining walls in front of the entrance to the temple (fig. 6).

Along with the restoration activities, the production of mud bricks was started; the bricks were formed in the original sizes of 37 x 37 cm and 18.5 x 37 cm. The planned production of 5000 mud bricks asked for a daily tankful of water and for, all in all, 11 tons of chaff. The mud came from the dumps of former excavations. Soon there appeared extensive fields of mud bricks, either spread out to dry in the sun (fig. 8) or, two days later, set up vertically.



On October 12 the stone foundations of the temple of Ba’al were ready to receive the mud-brick superstructure (fig. 10). Fig. 11 highlights the contrast between the temple of Ba’al (left) and the temple of Ashtarte (right), that is still waiting to be restored.



State of the works in the autumn of 2009

2010 - Restoration Activities

A new temple for Ashtarte

After the temple of Ba'al had been restored, the neighbouring temple of Ashtarte (ca. 13th c. BC) should have its turn in the spring of 2010. Its state of preservation was even worse than that of the temple of Ba'al, because it had badly suffered from Roman graves and, since 1976, from lootings. The walls in the west and in the south existed only in fragments, the north wall had wholly disappeared and - following the obvious symmetry - was just partially restored, leaving a possible complete reconstruction for the future. Also the restoration of the stairs, of the space between the antae and of the entrance to the cella turned out to be difficult. The interior was only partially restored, leaving aside the installations excavated by Margueron.



Town wall of the Middle Bronze Age

Restoring the Middle Bronze Age (ca. 2000-1600 BC) town wall had not been part of the original planning. But it proved to be necessary due to static reasons, because the NW corner of the younger temple of Ashtarte is set on the town wall. Over a length of ca. 30 m, a height of almost 2 m and a width of 2.6 m the town wall was therefore put up in mud bricks. Its stone foundation was completely preserved. Also restored were a small passageway and a – later added - bastion or tower that was in danger to slide downhill.

Tempel of Ba'al

In the last two days of our stay the stairs leading up to the temple of Ba'al (14th – 13th c. BC) were restored – a job that was not feasible last autumn, because the original material, a solid sandstone, was not available. Meanwhile, one of the masons had managed to find just that kind of sandstone in a near-by wadi. Thus the steps of both stairs, those to the temple of Ba'al as well as those to the temple of Ashtarte, were laid in the original material.

Essentially, the restoration of the temple area has now been brought to an end. A few supplementary jobs remain to be done, and 25 m3 of pebbles wait their turn to cover the paths and small spaces. But the two temples already form an impressive ensemble, a good example of the Syrian „temple in antis“ of the Bronze Age.


We are grateful to the Syrian Antiquities Department, especially to our partner, Dr. Youssef Kanjou, and we thank the German Foreign Office for the repeated grant of funds for this project. But we also extend our respect and our gratitude to the workmen, who looked upon the restoration of the temples as their own cause that they pursued with dedication.