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…]
When in Beirut, it is easy to get overwhelmed by the horrendous traffic, the non-stop car horns, the chaotic flow of vehicles and people alike, the disorderly erected buildings, or the lack of any decent pavements. As such, the visitor risks missing the elegant old mansions which, though mostly dilapidated, still represent a mysterious, latent expression of the city’s hidden spirit.
Elongated Ottoman-style arches; broken windows; decorated facades; elaborately designed iron gates; semi-rotundas; unexpected signs of life; a few samples of art-deco: they all stand tall, surrounded by either modern houses – often of questionable aesthetics – or, even worse, by the heavily war-battered buildings whose gaping holes keep reminding of the recent conflicts and the relentless bloodshed.
The below photo-journey through the Al Hamra and Clemenceau districts of West Beirut is a tribute to the elegance and the secluded soul of the city which, hopefully, will not be eradicated but, instead, will be reserved as part of the Beirutis’ identity and inheritance. [Read more…]
The authentic heart of a country (especially an unknown one) is uncovered only through the stories of its people. Some of these stories are significant and inspirational, bathed in floodlight. Others – my favorite ones – are simple, humble, and humane, often inconsequential. With the careless lightness of dandelion seeds wafting in the air, they land here and there leaving only subtle marks. Each one of them may be blurry or incomplete on its own, however, in their totality, they weave a social fabric that not only embodies the identity of the country, it also unites us all on a plane that is both higher and deeper than the fragmented reality in which we often isolate ourselves. And, even though such stories do not come with valuable insights, they emanate peace and tranquility, reminding us that reaching out, listening, and connecting is the most gratifying part of any journey. [Read more…]