Russian orchestra plays Syria's ancient Palmyra theatre
Sergei Roldugin, friend of Vladimir Putin, performed at site where ISIS held public executions
An extraordinary scene unfolded in the ancient city of Palmyra tonight.
The famous Russian Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra from St. Petersburg played a concert in the city's Roman theatre — only six weeks after ISIS was forced out of the historic Syrian site.
The assault on Palmyra started in early March, with Russian airstrikes followed up by Syrian ground troops who moved in to oust ISIS, ending the militant group's 10-month reign of terror over a town whose famed 2,000-year-old ruins once drew tens of thousands of visitors each year.
- Syrian troops enter city of Palmyra after Russian airstrikes
- Syrian troops drive ISIS out of historic Palmyra
- PHOTOS: Palmyra after ISIS
- ISIS under pressure as Syria recaptures Palmyra
Much of the Roman theatre, a UNESCO world heritage site, remains undamaged, but parts of it were blown up by ISIS militants.
Ambassadors from UNESCO, the United Nations' Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, have unanimously adopted a Russian motion to restore the historic parts of Palmyra that were damaged under ISIS occupation.
- ISIS said to have destroyed ancient Palmyra arch
- Palmyra's ancient Arch of Triumph recreated
- ISIS blows up ancient tombs in Palmyra
Cellist Sergei Roldugin performed at the theatre, which ISIS used as a venue to conduct public executions during its occupation of Palmyra. Roldugin, a close friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was named in the Panama Papers.
Conducting the orchestra was Valery Gergiev, also a supporter of Putin's.
In opening remarks, Gergiev said that with the concert, "We protest against the barbarians who destroyed monuments of world culture."
There was also a video link-up in which Putin addressed the audience, saying he regarded the concert "as a sign of gratitude, remembrance and hope."
Thursday's concert has echoes of a similar performance, also conducted by Gergiev, in August 2008, when the Mariinsky played in front of the bombed-out parliament of the self-proclaimed Republic of South Ossetia after Russian forces defeated the Georgian army in a short war over the territory.
- In a previous version of this story we reported that Valery Gergiev is a cellist who was named in the Panama Papers. In fact, it was cellist Sergei Roldugin who was named in the Panama Papers. Gergiev is an orchestra conductor.May 05, 2016 12:41 PM ET
With files from Reuters and The Associated Press