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Watch: What Palmyra looked like in the 1800s, and how the Islamic State is destroying it

The video above was produced by the Smithsonian's Freer and Sackler galleries, where visitors can find an elegant Roman-era bust from the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra accompanied by this montage of historical images of the treasured World Heritage site.

Before the 20th century, the ruins of Palmyra, once a key crossroads of classical civilizations, existed on the dusty margins of the Ottoman Empire. European travelers, though, took a special interest in the city.

The images sequenced above — photographs by the 19th-century French photographer Félix Bonfils and drawings by the 18th-century British traveler Robert Wood — were formative documents in the Western imagination and inspired the architecture of the industrial age's emerging powers.

Wood's rendering of an ancient Roman eagle seen in Palmyra, for example, would later become the model for the Seal of the United States.

The archaeological complex has endured the rise and fall of myriad kingdoms, and the invasions of a succession of conquering empires. But it may face its greatest danger now.

Islamic State militants release images purportedly showing the pagan Baal Shamin temple in Palmyra, Syria, being blown up. (Video: Reuters)

Extremists from the Islamic State circulated images on social media on Tuesday that appeared to show the group's destruction of a famed temple in Palmyra. On Sunday, the Syrian government confirmed news that the militant group had detonated explosives in the Temple of Baal Shamin, an act that UNESCO, the United Nations' cultural agency, deemed a war crime.

The temple, devoted to a Phoenician storm god, was nearly 2,000 years old and was a testament to Palmyra's rich, diverse cultural history. The militants, though, consider such pre-Islamic art and shrines to be heretical and deserving only of obliteration.

The Islamic State, according to activists as well as authorities in Damascus, has set about smashing some of Palmyra's statues and relics. It recently beheaded a venerable archaeologist who reportedly refused to divulge information about the location of certain perhaps-yet-unexcavated treasures.

When it's not pulverizing the past, the Islamic State has reportedly made millions of dollars by smuggling artifacts plundered from their domains in Iraq and Syria.

The images published by the group appear to show militants setting up explosives within the archaeological complex, and then a giant cloud of smoke where the Temple of Baal Shamin once stood — behind a stretch of the city's lengthy colonnade.

A caption in Arabic reads: "The moment of the explosion of the pagan Temple of Baal Shamin in Palmyra city."

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The many splendors of Palmyra, now under threat of destruction