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.

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