UNESCO leads a rescue mission at the National Museum of Beirut
The National Museum of Beirut stands proudly in the heart of the capital, on Damascus Road. Destroyed numerous times, mainly during the 15 years of civil war, but also during the Beirut port blasts, it has been refurbished each time, its priceless collections always saved by miracle. If visitors are now getting ready to rediscover them as the museum reopens soon, few know that a whole different world exists in the basements of the museum, where a small team has been working for more than three months to carry out a rescue mission that is long overdue.
In these basements which serve as a repository, collectibles and invaluable pieces are piled up, some dating back to the Bronze Age and up until the Ottoman period. Funerary stelae, statuettes, sarcophagi, capitals and lintels are scrutinized, in a meticulous operation of inventory, classification and storage financed by UNESCO, which also provided specialized shelves to preserve these works of arts, as part of the Li Beirut initiative.
“The collections of a museum are not fully exposed to the public,” explains Marie-Antoinette Gemayel, archaeologist and museologist in the Department of Cultural Goods of the Directorate General of Antiquities. Often, 10 to 15% of the objects, representative of larger collections, are exhibited, and the rest is preserved. This is the case with the National Museum of Beirut”.
Discovered long before the civil war in different regions of Lebanon, including World Heritage sites such as Baalbeck, Anjar, Tyre or Qannoubine, these pieces were saved during the war but, due to lack of resources, they remained randomly stored. “This project that we are leading as well as these 30 new shelves contribute to increase the capacity of this space and make it possible to protect and preserve these precious objects which constitute the wealth of Lebanon and must not be left on the ground, assures Gemayel. As for the inventory and classification work, by site, by age, etc., it will allow new studies and pave the way for new temporary or online exhibitions, to make these pieces known to a greater number of people.”
Visiting the depot to inquire about the progress of the work with the Director General of Antiquities, Sarkis Khoury, the Director of the UNESCO Office in Beirut, Costanza Farina, praised the work accomplished in partnership with the DGA, while workers from Baalbeck placed rare objects on the new shelves, proud to see collections which belong to their native region and which are not accessible to the public. “This project is part of UNESCO’s continuing mission to support museums, she said. Not only as national buildings but also as promoters of cultural life, which is at the heart of the Li Beirut initiative.”
With the completion of this project, UNESCO will also continue its support for the National Museum of Lebanon, by funding an operation to inspect 3 lapidary rooms with their inscriptions. To be continued.