This past week has been an immensely difficult one for much of North Africa. On Friday, September 8th, the strongest earthquake of the past century struck the High Atlas region of Morocco, killing nearly 3,000 people, injuring and displacing hundreds of thousands more, and damaging heritage buildings and cultural centers in the Medieval Medina of Marrakesh, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Just a few days later, on Monday, September 11th, the northeast region of Libya was hit by a massive storm which caused flooding so powerful that it caused two dams in the area to collapse. Thousands of people were killed in the disaster and 10,000 more are still missing.
The U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield (USCBS) is devastated to hear of these tragedies, the horrific loss of life, and the damage to irreplaceable heritage sites and monuments.
Several important heritage structures in Marrakesh have suffered damage, including the Kharbouch mosque in Jemaa el-Fna square and parts of the historic city walls. The Kutubiyya mosque and the El Bahia and El Badi Palaces have also sustained damage. Outside of Marrakesh, reports indicate that the historic town of Taroudant has been damaged and that the 12th century Tinmel mosque has been completely destroyed. Amazing casbahs in the High Atlas Mountains were mostly ruined. Not only are these structures invaluable landmarks of Moroccan and Islamic history, they are significant places in the lives of Marrakesh’s modern residents and visitors. We support efforts to assess, stabilize, and restore these important monuments.
The extent of the damage to historic and cultural property in Libya is currently unknown, as aid organizations are rightly prioritizing rescue efforts and the administration of humanitarian aid. In time, further evaluations will provide additional information about the extent of damage to monuments, sites, and institutions.
Reports from both Morocco and Libya continue to provide updates on the situation. Humanitarian efforts and heritage assessments continue as attempts are made to understand the full extent of these tragedies and to provide help, support, and hope. USCBS has offered its assistance to its partner organization, the American Society of Overseas Research (ASOR), which will, following the urgent search and rescue efforts currently taking place, engage with its in-country partners in assessing the damage to both countries’ cultural heritage.
The USCBS, ASOR, the United States Committee of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS USA), and the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) offer their deepest condolences to the families of the victims of these tragedies and stand with Morocco and Libya as they continue rescue efforts and begin rebuilding from this tragedy. The loss of life is devastating, and the destruction of invaluable cultural heritage is a profound loss for the people whose heritage has stood proudly for centuries.