08/18/2020, 13.22
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National Museum’s Phoenician glass safe. The restoration of the historic districts

by Pierre Balanian

The historical heart of Beirut was destroyed in the port explosions,  and there is the risk of the destruction of the cultural heritage. The devastated parts are relics of the Ottoman tradition and of the first contact with the French West. The campaign of the Ministry of Archaeological Heritage together with Unesco. But there are jackals who are taking advantage of the desperation of the inhabitants. Temporary homes are being prepared for the 300,000 homeless. "It will take years" to rebuild. Our "In aid of devastated Beirut" campaign.

Beirut (AsiaNews) - The two explosions that tripped through Beirut port on 4 August devastated half of the city. In addition to the irrecoverable losses of human lives, of missing and injured, there is also the risk of losing the Lebanese cultural heritage.

But first , the good news: the historical artifacts of the National Museum, which houses the first glass in history, invented by the Phoenicians, are safe. However, the artefacts that were kept in the building’s underground deposits, which were flooded due to burst pipes, were lost.

The damaged historic buildings in neighborhoods near the port will need to be rebuilt. These buildings date back to the late nineteenth century and bear witness to the end of the Ottoman Empire and the beginning of French colonialism. A curious fact: the political and armed turmoil in Lebanon today seems to be taking up the thread of the Franco-Turkish struggle. It leads not only to Libya, but also to the Aegean Sea, between Turkey and Greece and for hegemony in the eastern part of the Mediterranean, where there are extensions of submarine gas deposits.

The neighborhoods of Jemeyze, Sursok, Mono, date to that period. In this place, already in the mid-nineteenth century, the Jesuits arrived with their schools, hope and culture in an era of Ottoman decay. Those neighborhoods were the gateway to the West, the heart of what would become the hub of Lebanese Francophonie, to the detriment of the Turkish and Arabic languages. Intellectuals, artists, the bourgeoisie close to colonial power were born in these neighborhoods.

The explosions tore apart entire facades of traditional houses; until the eve of the disaster they housed pubs, restaurants, artisan workshops, art galleries. In this part of the city the young people had their nightlife, and they are the same young people we see today active in cleaning the streets, clearing rubble, visiting the inhabitants, distributing aid.

There are 300,000 homeless displaced people: they now know that it will take a long time before they will regain possession of their homes because it is not just a question of rebuilding, but also of restoring.

About forty volunteers from the Lebanese University restoration institute, under the supervision of the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and UNESCO, are assessing the damage and planing what to do. Among the more than 1700 damaged buildings and houses, they have counted 600 historic buildings of cultural value that should be restored to their initial state, and they ensure that nothing is thrown away: tiles, pieces of wood, shreds of tiles, everything is brought collected and secured.

However, Sarkis Al Khouri, director general of the ministry of archaeological heritage, shares his concern: “The restoration work will require 300 million dollars and the government will certainly not be able to guarantee this sum. We started a campaign based on donations, we turned to Unesco and Icrom; Some associations such as Alif and Ecomos have also joined us, but help from the whole world is needed ".

Meanwhile, there is no shortage of jackals They take advantage of the desperation of the inhabitants left homeless and in need of money, proposing to buy their real estate at bargain prices, for future billion dollar investments. Possessed by despair, by the desire to leave the country that has become the graveyard of their dreams, many owners sell to these intermediaries. To put an end to this phenomenon and save the national heritage, the Ministry of Commons and the Municipality of Beirut together with the Governor of the capital have issued an ordinance banning the purchase or sale of real estate damaged by the explosions.

For now, the biggest expense is to protect the roofs with plastic drapes, to prevent the late summer rain from damaging the buildings further.

Beirut wants to regain its splendor. Meanwhile, the homeless are worried about where to stay. They would like to get their homes back as soon as possible, while trying to secure temporary housing.

Sarkis admits that "it will take years, as there are ceilings that had frescoes that should also be restored just as they were". In short, a long story, an endless story for a Lebanon always hanging between destruction and reconstruction.

In support of the people of Beirut and Lebanon, in support of Caritas Lebanon, AsiaNews has decided to launch the "In aid of devastated Beirut" campaign. Those who want to contribute can send donations to:

- PIME Foundation - IBAN: IT78C0306909606100000169898 - Institution identification code (BIC): BCITITMM -


- through the AsiaNews website under "DONATE NOW"


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