500 Roman Columns In Beirut Have Been Thrown Away By The Sea Next To Biel, Because Who Needs History Anyway

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The saga of the sure and constant destruction of any historical remnants of Beirut continue. The city, which is constantly listed among the world’s oldest continuously inhabited locales, is having progressively less things to show for its history as the Lebanese government and everyone involved in governance seems not to care the least about that particular aspect of the city, treating it with as much carelessness as you could imagine… and then some.

Picture this: if you go near Biel, in the recently built Beirut Waterfront area, you will stumble on an archeological discovery that most countries around the world can’t even boast about having: between 400 to 500 roman columns are found there, thrown away by the sea, waiting for kingdom come to do its job.

Of course, it’s not a discovery per se. Rather, those columns are there because the place that’s been storing them for the past 20 years was recently demolished to make way for new construction in the area. I wonder what string of logic led them to believe that the best mode of action towards those columns was just to throw them away near the sea and wait?

First reported a few days ago by L’Orient Le Jour, these columns were obtained during the many archeological digs that took place around Beirut between 1993 and 1997, soon after the end of the Lebanese civil war. The plan for the columns in questions, all of which were well-preserved, was to be dispersed around the city in various historical public spaces, similar to the one you’d see entering Jbeil.

Except that did not happen: the columns were never properly sorted, they were never categorized according which site they were extracted from in order to plant them in their natural location, and here they are today lying by the sea.

The person overseeing those columns was Hans Curvers, the archeologist appointed by Solidere. Needless to say, we all know the story of Solidere with any archeological finding in the Downtown Beirut area: complete media blackout, banning anyone and everything from approaching the site where those ruins were found and then – suddenly – those ruins vanishing or getting destroyed beyond recognition.

The General Directory of Antiquities in Lebanon (DGA) admitted that there were some shortcomings in the way the columns have been dealt with, which is an understatement given the fact they’re lying by a polluted sea because their warehouse was demolished without a backup plan.

The Ministry of Culture, through its head Mr. Ghattas Khoury (whose track record is of taking out the protections of cultural houses around the city), noted that the columns were “not forgotten” but awaiting transfer to Horsh Beirut, and that they were lying there because they didn’t have warehouses to store them. How is that even an excuse?

Why weren’t those columns transferred to Horsh Beirut months ago when the park opened instead of waiting until media notices the fact they’ve been thrown away? Why weren’t transient alternative warehouses built for these columns until such transfer could be accomplished? Are the ministry of culture and the DGA so incompetent that they don’t know (or probably don’t care) about the damage that such columns might be exposed to in such conditions?

The fact of the matter is, Beirut – one of the world’s most archeologically rich places – is becoming progressively poorer in anything that represents its history and heritage by the day. From old houses and breweries and buildings, to ruins and roman columns, nothing is safe. But I guess it all doesn’t matter as long as some shady international publication decides that it should be placed on a “best of” list which makes everything a-okay.

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Following Up on Beirut’s Soon-To-Be Destroyed Roman Hippodrome and The Best Way To Save It

Lebanon isn’t a place where much changes in a year. Seriously, if you look at where we were last year around this time and where we are today, you’ll see a lot of similarities. The only exception, perhaps, to our Lebanese reality is real estate, especially when it comes to all the contracting taking place in Downtown Beirut.

More than year ago, I wrote about the Roman Hippodrome that was soon to be destroyed in Beirut (link), in Wadi Bou Jmil next to the Jewish Synagogue. A lot has happened in a year. So courtesy of a piece (link) by Habib Battah, an LAU professor, published by the BBC, an update on Beirut’s Roman Hippodrome is in order:

  • The developer who wants to use the land is Marwan Kheireddine. Sounds familiar? He is a minister in Lebanon’s current government. Way to go for transparency.
  • The project that will see the destruction of the hippodrome is a gated community where only “elite” Lebanese will enter. In other words: you and I are off limits. Unless you can afford paying millions for a Downtown Beirut apartment.
  • According to Kheireddine, the site is not worth preserving. How does he know this? He hired an archeologist who said so. Yes, because such matters are most transparently handled by the people you buy into your service.
  • Kheireddine is offering 4000 squared meters of the land to turn into a museum of sorts that people could access. Because a Roman Hippodrome was meant to be contained within the parking lot of a building, right?
  • Plots around the site in question are said to contain other parts of the stadium and need to be properly excavated as well.
  • There is an immense shortage of archeologists in the country. The job of those archeologists is to make sure such transgressions never happen. But the government doesn’t seem to care about such an issue.
  • Beirut is not the only place where Lebanese archeological heritage is being destroyed left and right carelessly. In fact, what’s happening outside of Beirut in lesser known areas might be worse.
  • Concerned activists are trying their best to halt the development. But there will come a time when they won’t be able to do much anymore.

I remember back in 2005-2006 when a local cafe in Batroun was being built. The initial digging site revealed a Phoenician burial site, sarcophagi and all. People flocked to see what the site was all about. The following day, nothing survived to tell the tale. Today, instead of that entire burial site lies a cafe known for its shisha and its July 2012 drug scandal.

The Best Way To Save The Hippodrome:

Earlier in 2013, hell broke loose twice over ancient ruins in Beirut. The first time was because some henchmen at District S assaulted the same person who wrote the aforementioned BBC article over him taking pictures of the ruins they were busy dismantling to open up Beirut into the new Dubai-esque age (link). The second time was due to Lebanon’s possibly oldest Church getting discovered at another site where a Jean Nouvel hotel was to be built (link).

The discrepancy between the fate of sites one and two is striking. The former is still operation. The latter has been halted. Churches can do miracles? Believe, people.

Arguments about how priceless a monument is, how irreplaceable it is, how silly it is to replace it with a building, how rare it is to find such a thing in Lebanon, how economically profitable it would be to keep it and turn it into an attraction are all useless simply because most people don’t connect to them on a primal level, enough to get them rallied up.

The only way, apparently, to get to a result, force government to get involved and save such sites in Lebanon is to infuse a dose of religion in the stones. The more religious those stones, the more people get rallied up, the less our government can stand quiet as bulldozers raze through the field. Unfortunately for the hippodrome, there doesn’t seem to be an ancient church in its ruins as of now. Let’s hope that changes soon.

The following pictures are all courtesy of the BBC:

Ministry of Culture To Buy Land & Save Lebanon’s Oldest Church in Downtown Beirut?

Source: The Beirut Report

Source: The Beirut Report

The site in Downtown Beirut, which is called “The Landmark” and at which a future hotel and mall were to be built, turned out to be an archeological jewel for Lebanon, unveiling three very important entities:

  1. A Roman gate,
  2. The old Roman road,
  3. Lebanon’s possibly oldest church (source).

I wrote on the issue yesterday. The matter has since made the rounds online. And it seems we’ve made a ripple. Lebanon’s ministry of culture is now considering to purchase the land where “The Landmark” is to be built because of its historical importance according to the following source (link – Arabic).

While the news is definitely welcome, I have to wonder – is it really Lebanese-like to have a ministry with a proven track record – the Roman hippodrome, Phoenician port and Amin Maalouf’s house are all destroyed – somehow respond this fast to demands and act on them? Isn’t it all too fast and too efficient to actually be plausible taking into consideration Lebanese standards?

Perhaps this whole “land purchase” deal is a decoy in order to calm down everyone whilst the real plans go underway. It’s not a conspiracy theory as much as it is the reality of a place like Lebanon where such things happen almost all the time. The question to be asked though: what truly got the ministry of culture to act this time while they didn’t regarding other sites despite all of them getting the same attention and vocal opposition to the demolitions?

It’s quite simple, in my opinion. “The Landmark” land has had a Church discovered in it. Prior to the discovery of the Church, and even though the Roman gate and road were both potentially discovered, the ministry of culture had no problem leaving the project underway and everything demolished in the process (source). But when a church comes into play, can a “Christian” minister truly leave the place be especially with so many “rights” at stake lately? It’s not about “culture” at all.

Ancient churches obviously trump everything else in archeological importance. And quite honestly, it was probably really smart to add a “Church” twist to the affair in order to get people – including the minister – to act. Can you imagine the even bigger outrage if the Church wasn’t saved?

Moreover, isn’t it despicable for us to now start hoping religion factors into the undiscovered aspects of our history in order to have a decent chance at having them saved, documented and potentially turned into a viable economical outlet that doesn’t require their demolition?

Based on a comment on my post regarding the matter (link), a law in Lebanon actually exists in order to protect ancient ruins from the claws of real estate and developmental projects with no other aim but blind money. The law in question was put into action prior to the civil war and hasn’t probably been put on hold akin to our new driving law.

Shouldn’t a country as archeologically rich as Lebanon, and a city with layers upon layers of history such as Beirut, have devised a method by now in order to accommodate the need for contemporary development with the need to also preserve history? How did cities like Rome and Athens manage to move into the 21st century? I guess it all comes down to the basic flaw in everything Lebanese: we never, ever, have a plan and a vision for a future.

How will the moguls behind “The Landmark” take the news that their entire investment will now go to waste? Is this even charted territory for us whereby the billionaire developers don’t get their way – in theory at least?

I hope for its sake that the next site to be unearthed in Beirut has some Umayyad mosque in it.