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Heritage Endangered: Serail of Baabda, Byzantine churches


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Heritage Endangered: Serail of Baabda, Byzantine churches
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A Heritage Endangered - A Daily Battle to be Fought

Beaufort Castle, the Serail of Baabda, the Byzantine churches of Koura, what has become of all the projects for their restoration and revival? The Cultural Agenda, wanting to know more on the subject, questioned Frederick Husseini, Director General of the Department of Antiquities in the Ministry of Culture.

Inevitably, every few months the same polemic comes up about how to preserve the precious heritage of Lebanon. Every time a building in or around Beirut is knocked down in order to give way to some commercial skyscraper or center, there is a tumultuous mobilization of defenders of the national heritage accompanied by a campaign in the media.

Occasionally the storm of protest has some effect. In that case the destruction is held up, at least for the moment, but almost always the halt is only a temporary one, with expectation either of renewed demolition followed by construction or of a project for the restoration and rehabilitation of the old habitation.

But certain historic sites are by their very nature destined for preservation and rehabilitation. Beaufort Castle, in the south of Lebanon, is a perfect example. Built around 1139, Beaufort Castle has witnessed all the events that have stained the country with blood. All the facts concerning these are at present to be found in the files of the Directorate General of Antiquities (DGA). According to Director General Frederick Husseini, the rehabilitation and restoration of this archaeological site should get under way in April 2009 and should not take more than two or three years.

Following the liberation of the South in the year 2000, the DGA started to draw up a project for the restoration of Beaufort Castle, with preliminary studies to determine the sum required, finally put at US$ 2,900,000. In 2007, the DGA transferred a sum of US$ 900,000 to Council for Development and Reconstruction (CDR) in charge of the work of rehabilitation. This sum was completed in 2008 by the Kuwait Social and Economic Development Fund.

What reasons does Kuwait have for this generosity? First of all, Beaufort Castle stands for something, having been occupied by the Israelis during the invasion of 1982 and secondly this financial contribution brings Kuwait into the forefront, according to Frederick Husseini, particularly after the war of July-August 2006. However that may be, it is the CDR which has had the necessaries files in hand from the very beginning of the project for restoration.

An archaeological treasure

Other sites present more complications, such as the Serail of Baabda, for example. This presents us with a historic monument, “occupied by administrative offices, which has not yet been classified,” explains Mr. Husseini. The Lebanese Association for Local Development, led by Marie-Claude Helou-Saadeh, has taken the preservation of this building in hand. The first step must be to classify it, a process already in course of realization. But the difficulties arise when one comes to the stage of the preliminary study. The DGA will have to solve the problem of the occupation of the building, in particular by the Governor of Mount Lebanon, which means that the offices of the Administration will have to be moved without interruption of their work. The DGA is at present considering this matter so that it may then give the green light to the CDR for its financing the study concerning the Serail of Baabda.

Beaufort Castle and the Serail of Baabda both belong to the Lebanese State, so it is therefore possible for the DGA to take action directly for financing part of the projects for restoration. But this is not the case for certain other historic sites which are private property. This explains why the Byzantine churches of Koura are to be taken in hand by various associations in collaboration with the Patriarchate.

The Cultural Heritage and Urban Development project (CHUD) has in view to protect, rehabilitate and revitalize the urban centers in five historic Lebanese towns, namely Tripoli, Baalbek, Saida (Sidon), Tripoli and Tyre. This project represents an initiative of the Lebanese government working through the CDR with the support of the World Bank, with the contributions also of the French and Italian governments. The overall cost of the project is in the order of US$62 million. Launched in the year 2001 when Ghassan Salameh was Minister of Culture, the CHUD should wind up its operations by about 2012.

These are projects drawn up according to the limited, one might even say derisory, means available to the Directorate General of Antiquities, which would have wished to do much more. It is a “daily battle” says Frederick Husseini, who closes the discussion with this bitter reflection.

“It is better for the time being to let that which is under the ground remain under the ground,” while one waits for the State to have a definite policy and an appropriate set of regulations for the protection and rehabilitation of the Lebanese heritage, for Lebanon abounds in remains and in antiquities interred deep under the layers of time. Well has it been said, “Beirut has been buried seven times!”

Nayla Rached - Tanslated from the French by K.J. Mortimer
Tue Feb 10, 2009 10:48 am View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail Visit poster's website
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