Thursday, June 28, 2012

First Phoenician port in Beirut demolished

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First Phoenician port in Beirut demolished - Premier port phénicien de Beyrouth du Ve s. av. JC 


It is now gone in spite of all the attempts to protect it. Such a shame. How will we look our children in the eye when they ask us what happened to their heritage? Then again, this port is probably only one of many blunt disregards and abuses our nation has been notorious for. Downtown Beirut is nothing but a graveyard of culture. This is what history will remember us for. If we ever manage to agree on a united history academic book, that is.


June 28, 2012 01:24 AM


BEIRUT: An ancient Phoenician port in Beirut dating back to at least 500 B.C. was destroyed Tuesday after the culture minister gave a construction firm the green light to proceed with its project to build three skyscrapers on the site.
Civil society activists and the Venus construction firm have been in a standoff for more than a year over the firm’s $500 million development project. The controversy reached a decisive turning point this week when several bulldozers demolished one of the oldest ports in the country.
The Association for the Protection of the Lebanese Heritage has called for a demonstration in front of the Culture Ministry at noon Thursday to protest the demolition.
While officials at Venus welcomed Wednesday Culture Minister Gaby Layyoun’s decision, civil society activists told The Daily Star they would not stop until the minister and the firm stand trial for the destruction of the archaeological treasure.
Archaeologists and experts of maritime history tasked by the firm say the site’s distance from the Mediterranean shore and the nature of the findings indicate the site could have functioned neither as a port nor as ancient structures where ships were stored.
But the firm’s project had been on hold since April 2011, when then-Culture Minister Salim Wardy issued ministerial decree number 25 and designated some 1,200 square meters of the land owned by Venus as an archaeological site that should not be tampered with in any way, and is considered public property according a 1933 law.
The land, plot 1398, in Mina al-Hosn behind Hotel Monroe, is 7,500 square meters.
The decree was made after a team from the Directorate General of Antiquities discovered two ancient dry docks that were used for shipbuilding and their maintenance.
Archaeologists also discovered two large sandstones from an enormous structure that dated between the first and third centuries A.D.
Mina al-Hosn, the area where the discoveries were made, is Arabic for “Port of the Fort.”
But Wardy’s decree was revoked by Layyoun Tuesday. The decree signed by Layyoun denied that any of the findings of the DGA were of historical importance. “There is no evidence related to ships or any type of works related to maritime activity at the site,” Layyoun says in the decree.
“The entire case involves no proof that points to the presence of a Roman or a Phoenician port and the trenches within the rocks could not have been used as dry docks for ships or their maintenance,” he adds.
Welcoming Layyoun’s decision, Mohammad Kassem, managing director for Venus, told The Daily Star that his company started its work back up Tuesday after it received permission from the ministry.
“Former Minister Wardy never informed our firm about the ministerial decree and his team never visited the site itself,” Kassem said.
The managing director blames Wardy for the delay in construction. “He just made a decision ... but they did not provide any solid evidence that this port is a Phoenician one,” he said.
“We have gained the right to continue with construction because we have documents and evidence that they [the activists] do not have,” Kassem added.
He said that the land Venus owned was 8 meters above sea level, 230 meters from the shore and there were other newly constructed buildings between the property and the coast.
“How come they couldn’t find anything under those buildings before they built them?” Kassem asked, in reference to Beirut Tower and the Bay Tower buildings.
In response to Kassem, Wardy asked why the firm had halted construction for over a year if it was not informed about his ministry’s decision in 2011, adding that Layyoun and the firm “have committed a crime by destroying the port.”
“If we had not informed them of the decree, it means they had the right to continue work ... then why did they stop?” asked Wardy.
“My decision was based on a scientific report prepared by a group of archaeologists and marine experts ... they concluded the presence of dry docks dating back more than 2,500 years,” Wardy told The Daily Star.
In a letter addressed to Venus, Wardy had called on the firm to make rearrangements for their project to ensure the preservation of the Phoenician port.
“Block A and C did not conflict with the port, but I asked them to relocate Block B because it conflicts with the port,” Wardy added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 28, 2012, on page 4.
© 2011 The Daily Star - All Rights Reserved



À LA UNE 

Le « port phénicien de Beyrouth » détruit à coups de pelleteuse


Par Rania Massoud | 27/06/2012


PATRIMOINE Le site du « port phénicien de Beyrouth » a été détruit hier matin à coups de pelleteuse, avant que des activistes de la société civile n’alertent le juge des référés qui a ordonné l’arrêt total des travaux.



Le port phénicien de Beyrouth a été complètement détruit hier matin à coups de pelleteuse, ont rapporté plusieurs activistes de la société civile. « Nous sommes sous le choc, ils ont tout détruit, sans permis ni autorisation », dénonce Raja Noujaim, un militant engagé pour la protection du patrimoine libanais.

La destruction du site a été confirmée par Pascale Ingea, présidente de l’Association pour la protection du patrimoine libanais (APPL). « Il ne reste plus rien. On est scandalisé par ceux qui brûlent des pneus. Mais les vrais vandales portent des cravates, accuse la jeune femme qui, la première, est arrivée sur les lieux aujourd’hui. Si on l’avait su plus tôt, on aurait pu stopper ce massacre. »



Les vestiges du « port phénicien », découverts sur le site de construction de trois tours (les Venus Tours) à Mina el-Hosn, dans le centre-ville de Beyrouth, étaient menacés de destruction depuis plusieurs mois déjà. Les militants de la société civile avaient fait de ce dossier un engagement prioritaire. Vendredi dernier, l’APPL avait organisé un sit-in à Beyrouth afin de mettre en garde contre la moindre atteinte au site antique.

« C’est un crime, un vrai sabotage, et nous n’allons pas rester les bras croisés », assure M. Noujaim dans un entretien à lorientlejour.com. « Nous avons déjà mis en place une équipe d’avocats qui vont porter plainte contre les responsables de ce crime, qu’ils soient directement impliqués (comme les constructeurs de Venus Tours) ou indirectement (comme le ministre libanais de la Culture Gaby Layoun) », ajoute le militant. « Notre ministre actuel agit comme un ministre du béton, et non pas de la Culture, critique M. Noujaim. Lui, qui a une responsabilité morale et éthique pour la protection de notre patrimoine culturel, donne son feu vert pour la destruction illégale de ces vestiges vieux de plus de 2 500 ans, et ce en plein jour de surcroît. »




Les militants reprochent notamment au ministre Layoun d’avoir refusé de publier dans le Journal officiel la décision de son prédécesseur, le ministre Salim Wardy, qui classait le port « patrimoine culturel ».
Mais depuis, deux commissions d’archéologues se sont affrontées autour des découvertes mises au jour sur le site. La première, nommée par l’ancien ministre de la Culture Salim Wardy, atteste l’existence des vestiges de cales de bateaux datant de l’époque phénicienne alors que la deuxième, chargée par l’actuel ministre Gaby Layoun de procéder à une nouvelle étude, rejette catégoriquement ce rapport, soulevant ainsi une polémique sans précédent.

Sur les réseaux sociaux, l’annonce de la destruction du port phénicien a suscité l’indignation de nombreux internautes. Sur les groupes Facebook « Stop destroying your heritage » et « Save Beirut Heritage », où des photos du site détruit ont été publiées, plusieurs activistes ont appelé à la mobilisation « immédiate » contre le ministre Layoun.

Sit-in demain
De son côté, Raja Noujaim affirme qu’un rassemblement sera organisé par l’APPL demain jeudi à partir de midi devant le ministère de la Culture, à Verdun, pour protester contre la démolition du port.
Les activistes peuvent déjà se réjouir d’un premier accomplissement réalisé tôt ce matin : le juge des référés à Beyrouth, Nadim Zouein, a ordonné l’arrêt total des travaux sur le site de construction de Venus Tours, sanctionnant les constructeurs d’une amende de 100 millions de livres libanaises.
En soirée, l’ancien ministre de la Culture Salim Wardé a qualifié l’initiative de « crime » contre le Liban et son histoire, « surtout, a-t-il dit, si cette destruction a reçu l’aval du ministre actuel de la Culture », le aouniste Gaby Layoun.
Affaire à suivre...

© 2012 L'Orient-Le Jour. Droits de reproduction et de diffusion réservés.


Layoun : « Le site n’a aucune importance... »




27/06/2012


L’ancien ministre de la Culture, Salim Wardy, avait proposé de transformer les 1 100 mètres carrés du site en parc archéologique et de modifier l’emplacement de l’une des trois tours prévues par le projet privé. Mais son successeur, Gaby Layoun, a finalement autorisé la destruction du site après les conclusions d’un comité scientifique composé d’archéologues libanais secondés par des experts internationaux.
« Les résultats montrent que le site n’a aucune importance et qu’il n’a aucun rapport avec des cales phéniciennes », a déclaré M. Layoun hier soir à l’AFP, estimant que l’étude menée sous le précédent ministre était erronée.
« On ne peut en aucun cas les attribuer à des cales sèches, ce n’est qu’une carrière ancienne », a-t-il insisté.

Des parkings
« C’est un site unique en son genre, il a été détruit au profit d’un projet de développement privé », s’est en revanche indignée l’archéologue Martine Francis. « Ils auraient pu décaler l’emplacement, mais ils veulent faire des parkings. Je suis dégoûtée. Je ne comprends pas comment un site de 3 000 ans peut être pulvérisé en une heure et demie », a-t-elle ajouté à l’AFP. 


© 2012 L'Orient-Le Jour. Droits de reproduction et de diffusion réservés.






Middle East Affairs Examiner



What may have been an ancient Phoenician port in Beirut dating back to at least 500 B.C. has been destroyed after a construction firm says they received go-ahead from the Lebanon’s Culture Minister to proceed with its project to buildthree skyscrapers on the site.
While officials at the Venus construction firm welcomedCulture Minister Gaby Layyoun’s decision and wasted no time this week letting lose their bulldozers on the site (see photos), civil society activists are saying to press they “will not stop until the minister and the firm stand trial for the destruction of the archaeological treasure.”
Now almost completely eradicated are not only what UNESCO, historic preservation activists and archaeologists say is an ancient port – with remnants of two ancient port canals also uncovered - but according to archaeologists, the site also featured Roman structures dating between the first and third centuries A.D., as well as two large sandstones that were part of a huge structure archeologists believed to be the foundations of a temple.
Site defenders also point out that “Mina al-Hosn,” which is the name of the area where the discoveries were made, is Arabic for “Port of the Fort.”
The Venus construction firm has been in a standoff for more than a year over the firm’s $500 million development project – with the controversy reaching a decisive point this week when activists and journalists showing up for a protest found the site leveled and bulldozers continuing their destruction.
The Lebanese newspaper, The Daily Star, is reporting today that the construction company is now preventing press from photographing at the site.
Meanwhile, an organization called the “Association for the Protection of the Lebanese Heritage” held a demonstration in front of the Culture Ministry at noon to protest the demolition.
Josef Haddad, one of the co-founders of APLH, told press the decision to go ahead with the demolition appeared hasty.
"We were taken by surprise and when we realized and arrived on the site, 90 percent was gone," he said. "We have been told that there could be some restoration of the site. But we are now preparing a case on the basis that this was done illegally."
In a letter sent in March 2012, the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) confirmed the site as being an old Phoenician dry dock of historic and regional importance. UNESCO - stating the site’s pre-occupation and historic and cultural significance – the letter invited the Lebanese government to “take the necessary measures for the preservation of this exceptional site.”
Said one blogger at Blogbaladi.com, “Of course our dear Lebanese Minister of Culture, Gaby Layoun (sic) knows better about Phoenician ports than the UNESCO, so he decided to give the green light for destroying it to replace it with modern residential buildings… If this guy has any decency, he should step aside right away for the crime he just committed.”
Posting on Twitter, Hala Chaoui, had this to say, “The horrible ignorance, one more hunky slab of cement is planned to replace a historic site in overbuilt Beirut.”
Identified only as "Ted", another Londoner responded to anarticle posted on reddit about the ancient site’s destruction, “(It would) seem like an easy way to make the building pay for itself - turn the first floor into a museum of what was found.”
How awesome would that be? All these old cities and all these old buildings, each with their first floor dedicated to preserving and displaying these things.
The construction project had been on hold since April of last year when then-Culture Minister Salim Wardy issued a ministerial decree and designated the site - owned by Venus - as an archaeological site “that should not be tampered with in any way, and is considered public property according a 1933 law.”
The decree was made after a team from the Directorate General of Antiquities discovered two ancient dry docks that he said were used for shipbuilding and their maintenance.
Wardy said in a letter to the Venus firm that Block B of the proposed three towers, (designed for luxury condos and time-shares), conflicts with the area where the ancient port is located and called on the owners to make new arrangements for their project.
But Venus at that time denied that remnants discovered at the site belong to an ancient port and has tasked its own archeologists with carrying out an investigation.
Officials at Venus told the LBCI television channel over the weekend that the experts and archeologists they tasked in the investigation believe that “there is no chance that the findings belong to a port because the land is far from the Mediterranean shore.”
Venus has blocked access to the plot where the discovery of the port was made and is preventing anyone from entering and filming in the area, a Daily Star report said.
Outside the site today, protesters climbed nearby trees and threw handmade paper boats reading “Hands off our Phoenician Port” over the wall of the site.
Civil society activist Raja Noujaim also told Lebanese press that owners of project Venus Towers “have completely stood against preserving the port even within their project.”
Nujaim said, “They want to get rid of the port, (but) they do not have the right to make secret arrangements for a land which has archeological treasures like this one. This is part of the Lebanese history.”
Noujaim added, “If they want to challenge us, we will take it to court.”
Meanwhile, the decree by former Culture Minister Wardy was shot down by Layyoun on Tuesday, and in his own decree, Layyoun also denied that any of the findings of the DGA were of historical importance.
“There is no evidence related to ships or any type of works related to maritime activity at the site,” Layyoun says in the decree, adding, “The entire case involves no proof that points to the presence of a Roman or a Phoenician port and the trenches within the rocks could not have been used as dry docks for ships or their maintenance.”
However, Layyoun says little in the decree to back up his position.
Mohammad Kassem, managing director for Venus, also told Lebanese press that his company started back to work on the site on Tuesday only after receiving permission from the ministry.
“Former Minister Wardy never informed our firm about the ministerial decree and his team never visited the site itself,” said Kassem, who blames Wardy for the delay in construction.
“He just made a decision ... but they did not provide any solid evidence that this port is a Phoenician one.”
“We have gained the right to continue with construction because we have documents and evidence that they [the activists] do not have,” Kassem said, and in reference to the nearby Beirut Tower and the Bay Tower buildings, he added, “How come they couldn’t find anything under those buildings before they built them?”
In response to Kassem’s insistence that the firm didn’t know about the earlier decree, Wardy asked why the firm had halted construction for over a year if it was not informed about his ministry’s decision in 2011.
He also stated that Layyoun and the firm “have committed a crime by destroying the port.”
Another significant Beirut archaeological site in peril is the Roman Hippodrome, which is situated in Wadi Abou Jmil, next to the newly renovated Jewish Synagogue in Downtown Beirut. This monument, dating back for thousands of years, now risks being destroyed, activists say.
The hippodrome is considered - along with the Roman Road and Baths - as one of the most important remaining relics of the Byzantine and Roman era in the Beirut area. It site spreads over a large area of 3,500 meters.
Requests for construction projects in the hippodrome’s location have been ongoing since the monument’s discovery, but were constantly refused by former ministers of culture – including Wardy. In fact, another former Culture Minister, Tamam Salam, had issued a decree banning any work on the hippodrome’s site, effectively protecting it by law - which Wardy also upheld, but now, current minister Layyoun has authorized construction on that site to commence.
Lebanese writer Natasha Choufani also entitled her blog today in To My Beirut, “Beirut Heritage murdered by the silent Ministry of Culture.”
Wrote Choufani, “This is an example of the continuation of the murder of our heritage, our nature and our land, for pompous, greedy lawbreakers...”
Choufani blasted what she called “greedy government officials and foreign investors” further for construction of what she called “ostentatious projects”, and buildings that she said are “no reflection of who we are or what our history is.”
“(They are) destroying whatever was left after the war, and whatever was left after the scramble for these projects after all these years,” Choufani concluded, adding, “What will be left of Lebanon for its tourists when you run down the trees, expand the thousands of illegal quarries in the mountains, pollute the sea and food and create and wipe out the existence of our culture?” she asked.
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2 comments:

Casey Madison said...

More or less every big build in the City of London involves archaeological finds, a discovery and recording process followed by shoving a skyscraper on top. When I worked on site we found the main Roman Road to Colchester, along with a Roman cemetery. A number of buildings display artifacts uncovered during construction, they used to/may have Roman pieces in 250 Bishopsgate.
Lebanon should be praised to actually have the legislation and governance so that some archaeological work can be done, and it actually went to ministerial level for sign off. Even in the UK large firms will cover up remains in order not to add months of archaeology work to be scheduled in, so I think this story is more positive than it actually reads.

rouba said...

Thanks for the insight on Britain. Corruption is everywhere, no doubt.

But I guess when you know Beirut's Downtown turned out to be a historical treasure in hiding and everything was demolished for ugly parking lots and, ironically, Lebanese traditional (fake) buildings to be built instead (under the hypocritical reconstruction of post-war Beirut), we can't help but be outraged. The fact that they knew of that site's importance and yet chose to disregard it makes it even worse. They're bluntly saying to Lebanese, we don't care about YOUR heritage. This site might be of importance to all the Lebanese and might be symbolically owned by all Lebanese, we still don't care about your opinion. You have no say in what we do with your cultural heritage.