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:

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Lebanese Blogger Gets Assaulted In Beirut’s Downtown… For Taking A Picture

Habib Batah, a professor at LAU and blogger at The Beirut Report, got physically assaulted today by a bunch of henchmen at Downtown’s soon-to-be-constructed District S… because he dared take a picture of the ancient ruin inside the property which they were busy dismantling.

After being forced to delete the pictures off his phone, Habib tried to complain to Lebanon’s police who dismissed him with their typical “nothing to see here.” Again, we’re only paying our police so they can have Malek el Tawou2 for lunch or dinner. Protecting us or trying to keep our rights, the simplest of which is us being able to take a damn picture at a construction site of our heritage, is just too mainstream to be included under their umbrella of duties.

You can read the full story here (link).

In this occasion, I believe a series of thank yous are in order.

  • Thank you Solidere for your beautiful work in Downtown Beirut. It’s perfectly understandable that ancient ruins aren’t business-centric. The Khalijis sure don’t like them. 
  • Thank you Lebanon’s Ministry of Culture. Your continuous efforts in making sure there’s nothing about this country’s history that  isn’t history are much appreciated.
  • Thank you Lebanon’s Ministry of Interior. You’re just too busy not looking at those self-enforced anti-Syrian curfews and not working on elections for you to get your police to do their job.
  • Thank you Lebanon’s police. I feel safer every single day you tell me to “forget it.”
  • Thank you to every single entity in this God-forsaken country that makes me hopeful and happy and content into what I’m being offered every single freaking day.

How much more shit are we supposed to take before someone out there decides to do their bloody job? How many more people need to be assaulted because they tried to stand up to their constitutionally-given rights? How many more of our rights are we supposed to forsake because of well-connected people everywhere? How many people need to become victims before someone out there wakes up and realizes that this – all of it – is downright unacceptable?