CBS News gets glimpse inside ancient town devastated by ISIS

Last Updated Mar 31, 2016 4:14 PM EDT

CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer is one of the first Western journalists to visit the ancient Syrian city ofPalmyra since it was recaptured from ISIS by the Assad regime. Watch the "CBS Evening News" tonight at 6:30 p.m. ET to see Palmer's full report.

Considering Palmyra was occupied for 10 months by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), then turned into a combat zone by the Syrian and Russian militaries fighting to retake it, it's a wonder the city and its famous ruins are even standing.

The famous Roman columns still stand sharp in silhouette against the desert sky. From a distance, the site still looks as grand and timeless as ever. But the damage ISIS fighters did is literally monumental.

Two of the largest and most famous temples have been blown to pieces. The great Roman Triumphal Arch near Palmyra's entrance is no more. Where it once stood, there are now only fractured columns and a tumble of ancient masonry. The imposing stone Lion of al-Lat lies on the ground, toppled and defaced.

There is a gaping hole in the roof of Palmyra's Archaeological Museum; there's no way to know if it was punched through by an ISIS shell or a Russian bomb. The museum itself is wrecked - not just the building, but the archaeological treasures curators had not managed to pack up before ISIS rolled into town.

One room was left full of delicately carved stone heads -- ancient tomb ornaments. ISIS fighters have crudely chiseled off all the faces. One of the museum directors, Mohammed al Assad, told me: "It's because these figures are pre-Islamic. They hated anything that didn't fit into their twisted version of religion."

  • Elizabeth Palmer

    Elizabeth Palmer has been a CBS News correspondent since August 2000. She has been based in London since late 2003, after having been based in Moscow (2000-03). Palmer reports primarily for the "CBS Evening News."