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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.