Over the past week, a dark corner of the Internet has erupted in rumors that The Temple of Baal, a 2,000-year-old Syrian temple destroyed by ISIS last year, would be rebuilt in full as a house of worship in Times Square come April. As it turns out, those rumors are (mostly) false: the ancient temple is not being rebuilt in full; it will not be a functioning place of worship; and it's not happening next month. But New York may play host to a replica of a portion of the temple in the fall.
These rumors, presented as fact on famously reliable websites such as endoftheamericandream.com and nowtheendbegins.com, appear to have been sparked by a New York Times opinion piece from March 19th that kicked off by vaguely stating that "next month, the Temple of Baal will come to Times Square," before immediately explaining that "reproductions of the 50-foot arch that formed the temple’s entrance are to be installed in New York and in London, a tribute to the 2,000-year-old structure that the Islamic State destroyed last year in the Syrian town of Palmyra."
But the fine journalists at The American Dream Is Becoming A Nightmare And Life As We Know It Is About To End apparently didn't read past the first sentence—and subsequently stirred up enough of a niche frenzy that Snopes had to intervene. Notably, the hysteria was not over the potential risk of recreating a landmark recently destroyed by ISIS in one of the world's biggest terrorist targets, but rather over a concern that the replica would encourage "child sacrifice and sexual immorality."
The real facts, as we know them: the Temple of Baal, also known as the Temple of Bel, was built in Palmyra, Syria in 32 AD, and for centuries it was a place of worship to the Mesopotamian god Bel. It was later converted to a Christian church and then a mosque. In August 2015, ISIS destroyed the temple and beheaded the archaeologist who had been looking after the ruins for 40 years. Why? ISIS considers "pre-Islamic religious objects or structures sacrilegious." Also, they're complete assholes.
Not long after, the Institute for Digital Archaeology—a joint venture between Harvard, Oxford and the United Arab Emirates—announced its plan to print 3D replicas of the temple's arch and place them in temporary installations in London's Trafalgar Square and New York's Times Square. It's a part of a project called the Million Image Database, through which the institute, along with UNESCO, gives 3D cameras to volunteer photographers so that they can take pictures of threatened sites and objects in Middle Eastern and North African conflict zones. Those images can then be translated into 3D replicas.
According to the Institute's website, a replica of the arch is indeed coming to Trafalgar Square next month, on April 19th. But the Times has it wrong: the 50-foot-tall replica won't make its way to New York City until September, according to Alexy Karenowska, who's the Institute's Director of Technology. After that, the structure will go on to Syria.
When the plan for the replicas was first reported, the Institute downplayed the security risk posed by erecting replicas of a structure just destroyed by ISIS in locations such as Times Square and Trafalgar Square. At the time, Karenowska told reporters that "a building like the National Gallery or Trafalgar Square, these are major targets by virtue of what they are...Simply by placing a thought-provoking piece of art in one of those spaces, the level of heightened risk is very limited. This is something we are thinking about very carefully and that people involved are thinking about on a day-to-day basis."
There's no exact date set yet, and it's unclear just how set-in-stone this plan is: it's not yet listed on the website of the Office of Citywide Event Coordination and Management, and CECM didn't respond when we asked whether any event permits had been filed. But according to Karenowska, the Institute fully intends to bring the arch replica to NYC—but not to Times Square. "It will be in an iconic central location in the city," Karenowska confirmed this morning. "It is important for us to put it in a spot that is of real significance to the people of New York."