The Citadel of Aleppo (aerial view at right) rises above the old city in northern Syria and contains the remains of palaces, mosques and bathhouses dating back to the 10th century B.C. This World Heritage site has been threatened, however, by the country's civil war between rebels and the military of President Bashar al-Assad.
Armed conflicts and natural disasters threaten human life and cultural sites, but putting feet on the ground to assess damage can prove impossible. Instead experts are wielding satellite technology to monitor and protect endangered museums, monuments and other places of historical importance. The Inter-national Council of Museums (ICOM) first teamed up with the United Nations Institute for Training and Research's Operational Satellite Applications Program (UNOSAT) to report on the South Ossetia region during the 2008 Georgia-Russia War. UNOSAT leverages a network of publicly and privately owned satellites to capture the view from above. With those images and coordinates of the area's cultural sites, ICOM drew up a house-by-house assessment in just 24 hours. ICOM has since used satellites to survey damage to ancient mausoleums in Timbuktu during the 2012 civil war in Mali and plans to use them to assess destruction caused by the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.
Intervention may not be possible in regions where conflict still rages, but satellite technology and image analysis can give the council enough information to raise international awareness, appeal to combatants on the ground and make a plan for rehabilitation once the fighting stops.
This article was originally published with the title Art from Above.