Save Beirut’s Heritage: The Roman Hippodrome To Be Demolished

Discovered in 1988, the Roman Hippodrome in Beirut is situated in Wadi Abou Jmil, next to the newly renovated Jewish Synagogue in Downtown Beirut. This monument, dating back for thousands of years, now risks to be destroyed.

The hippodrome is considered, along with the Roman Road and Baths, as one of the most important remaining relics of the Byzantine and Roman era. It spreads over a total area of 3500 m2.

Requests for construction projects in the hippodrome’s location have been ongoing since the monument’s discovery  but were constantly refused by former ministers of culture of which we name Tarek Metri, Tamam Salam and Salim Warde. In fact, Tamam Salam had even issued a decree banning any work on the hippodrome’s site, effectively protecting it by law. Salim Warde did not contest the decree. Current minister of culture Gabriel Layoun authorized constructions to commence.

When it comes to ancient sites in cities that have lots of them, such as Beirut, the current adopted approach towards these sites is called a “mitigation approach” which requires that the incorporation of the monuments in modern plans does not affect those monuments in any way whatsoever. The current approval by minister Layoun does not demand such an approach to be adopted. The monument will have one of its main walls dismantled and taken out of location. Why? to build a fancy new high-rise instead. Minister Layoun sees nothing wrong with this. In fact, displacing ruins is never done unless due to some extreme circumstances. I highly believe whatever Solidere has in store for the land is considered an “extreme circumstance.”

The Roman Hippodrome in downtown Beirut is considered as one of the best preserved not only in Lebanon, but in the world. It is also the fifth to be discovered in the Middle East. In fact, a report (Arabic) by the General Director of Ruins in Lebanon, Frederick Al Husseini, spoke about the importance of the monument as one that has been talked about in various ancient books. It has also been correlated with Beirut’s infamous ancient Law School. He speaks about the various structures that are still preserved and only needing some restoration to be fully exposed. He called the monument as a highly important site for Lebanon and the world and is one of Beirut’s main facilities from the Byzantine and Roman eras, suggesting to work on preserving and making this site one of Beirut’s important cultural and touristic locations. His report dates back from 2008.

MP Michel Aoun, the head of the party of which Gabriel Layoun is part, defended his minsiter’s position by saying that: “there are a lot of discrepancies between Solidere and us. Therefore, a minister from our party cannot be subjected to Solidere. Minister Layoun found a way, which is adopted internationally, to incorporate ancient sites with newer ones… So I hope that media outlets do not discuss this issue in a way that would raise suspicion.”

With all due respect to Mr. Aoun and his minister but endangering Beirut’s culture to strip away even more of the identity that makes it Beirut is not something that should concern him or Solidere. What’s happening is a cultural crime to the entirety of the Lebanese population, one where the interests of meaningless politicians becomes irrelevant. Besides, for a party that has been anti-Solidere for years, I find it highly hypocritical that they are allowing Solidere to dismantle the Roman Hippodrome.

The conclusion is: never has a hippodrome been dismantled and displaced in any parts of the world. Beirut’s hippodrome will effectively become part of the parking of the high-rise to be built in its place. No mitigation approach will be adopted here. It is only but a diversion until people forget and plans go well underway in secrecy. But the time for us to be silent about this blatant persecution of our history cannot continue.

If there’s anything that we can do is let the issue propagate as much as we can. There shouldn’t be a Lebanese person in the 10452 kmthat remains clueless about any endangered monument for that matter. Sadly enough, this goes beyond the hippodrome. We have become so accustomed to the reality of it that we’ve become very submissive: the ancient Phoenician port is well behind us, there are constructions around the ancient Phoenician port of Tyre and the city itself risks of being removed off UNESCO’s list for Cultural Heritage Sites.

The land on which ancient monuments are built doesn’t belong to Solidere, to the Ministry of Culture or to any other contractor – no matter how much they’ve paid to buy it. It belongs to the Lebanese people in their entirety. When you realize that of the 200 sites uncovered at Solidere, those that have remained intact can be counted with the fingers of one hand, the reality becomes haunting. It’s about time we rise to our rights. Beirut’s hippodrome will not be destroyed.

 

18 thoughts on “Save Beirut’s Heritage: The Roman Hippodrome To Be Demolished

  1. This is the first I hear of this. Shouldn’t there be a law that protects any landmark from being approached in any way whatsoever with the intent of destroying it?

    Reply
    • We start by spreading the word. The more people know the harder it will be to let something like this slide.
      And then we hope that enough people becoming active about the issue would get some politicians’ attention.

      Reply
  2. Pingback: Lebanon: A State of Identityphobia « A Separate State of Mind

  3. Pingback: Marching For Beirut’s Hippodrome and Phoenician Port « A Separate State of Mind

  4. Please people reading this lovely article and coverage on this issue, if you would like to know more on the topic and see what the newspapers and experts are saying, you can go to, like, and support by sharing this following Facebook page:

    http://www.facebook.com/PhonecianPortBeirut

    And for information about the march/protest to take place this Saturday where our voices should be heard before they do start tampering and destroying the sites can be seen on this facebook page organized by an NGO:

    https://www.facebook.com/events/395461473816530/

    Thank you for your time, your support on this issue by spreading the word and sharing this information to create awareness is vital…

    Kindest regards to all,

    Toufic

    Reply
  5. some mistakes, the hippodrome was officially discovered in 2008. However unofficially in 2007 as we can find in some confidential solidere report. It did not prevent them to sell this land knowing that the future owners will go into trouble. Since 1978 – 1979, most of the archéologists knew there were “something” important under the ruines but didnt know what exactly.

    So maybe you should check out some references about it :)

    Reply
  6. Pingback: Beirut Featured on CNN: Beirutopia – A Garden City? « A Separate State of Mind | A Lebanese Blog

  7. Pingback: The Maghen Abraham Synagogue in Downtown Beirut, Lebanon « A Separate State of Mind | A Lebanese Blog

  8. Pingback: Beirut’s Phoenician Port Destroyed with Ministry of Culture Approval « A Separate State of Mind | A Lebanese Blog

  9. Pingback: Beirut’s Roman Hippodrome is Being Dismantled by Lebanese Ministry of Culture… Against The Law « A Separate State of Mind | A Lebanese Blog

  10. Pingback: Following Up on Beirut’s Soon-To-Be Destroyed Roman Hippodrome and The Best Way To Save It | A Separate State of Mind | A Lebanese Blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s