Like most sites in Beirut, the National Museum – the principal museum of archaeology in Lebanon – hides a turbulent story in the background. Inaugurated in 1942, it was severely damaged during the Civil War of the 70s since the building stood on one of the front lines that separated various military factions. As the war raged, the famous “museum alley” became a check-point for several militias, and the edifice turned into barracks for the fighters, while enduring heavy shelling. Thankfully, the ancient sarcophagi were protected with sand and concrete casings, the mosaics were covered with cement layers, and the small artefacts were whisked to the basement to evade obliteration. Despite the efforts, though, destruction was not avoided. Once the war ended and the Lebanese started putting their lives and cities together again, they discovered that the museum had flooded and the antiquities, hidden for over 15 years under inadequate conditions in the humid basement were severely damaged; the building’s walls bore the scars of innumerous bullets, and grotesque, graffiti inscriptions from the militiamen; and the lack of ventilation in the casings used for the large stone antiquities had caused significant erosion. A fire had destroyed maps, photographs, unique records, and many objects; the laboratory equipment was lost, and numerous exhibits – many of which had been transferred to Byblos or Sidon to avoid destruction – were stolen or auctioned. Despite all these challenges, today the building and its exhibition halls have been restored into a priceless bijou, and they stand as silent story-tellers of Lebanon’s colourful past. [Read more…]
It was a cold, December evening and the Nejme Square (Place de l’ Etoile) at the Centre Ville of Beirut was plunged into darkness. The somberness of the dusk was reinforced by a celestial murkiness that obscured any light, and the recent downpour had left puddles in every crack of the road. The figure of the St George Orthodox Cathedral delineated at a slightly darker shade against the gloomy background and, for a while, I attributed the silence and lack of any human presence to the weather, the late hour of the day, and the vicinity of the Beirut Souks which, with their luxurious cafes and Christmas decorations, were more joyful and welcoming.
“This place used to be bustling with life and tourists were queuing till late in the evening to visit the Cathedral,” explained the warden of the church, contradicting my thoughts. “Rafic Hariri used to take his coffee at this corner, being close to the Parliament, and this square – the most important square of Beirut – was busy and humming with activity. The tourists have not returned yet; the silence that you experience tonight is rather the norm nowadays.” [Read more…]
His face rests on her cheek, eyes closed, the contact revealing masculinity and surrender together. Her head tilts to the left, her lips almost about to kiss the corner of his neck where – one feels – she tends to sink when looking for peace and protection. The two naked torsos interlace in a close embrace as they dance, while the long cloth that envelops her legs flows to the right, on a robust diagonal movement that follows the twirling of their dancing steps and highlights even further the intensity of the moment.
Time stood still around me – imitating the time that has permanently paused around the two dancers – as I marveled at The Waltz of Camille Claudel displayed in the newly-opened museum in Nogent-sur-Seine – a museum that bears with pride the name of the sculptor and finally pays tribute to her work which had, unfortunately, stayed in obscurity for almost 100 years. [Read more…]
Mehrdad tuned the tar; the two hearts of the instrument – the male and the female – shivered to life and shed a tear or two as a libation to the muse. Shahriar followed with his kamancheh, seconded by the introductory heartbeat of the percussion. And then, melodies fluttered at the basement of the Music Museum of Isfahan (*), ebbing and expanding in invisible murmurations, tucking with delicate fingers the petals of my opening heart, and dislodging reminiscences from dark corners, nudging them gently towards the light.
The voices rose to a song, opening their wings in the air and observing us from above. They tiptoed on our sensitivity, plummeted on the inherited pain, somersaulted on the congenital joy. The lyrics remained unknown to me, their meaning secluded within the pleats of a language I do not understand and, yet, their essence was pellucid. It could be a poem by Hafez, it could be Rumi, it could be Omar Khayyam or just a series of simple folk songs. It did not matter. I understood. I felt. [Read more…]