Beirut’s National Museum spans a troubled history

For the next issue of Spear’s, I have written (obviously) about the opera scene in Beirut, its existence, survival and self-deceit. One part of my trip in June I couldn’t fit in was my visit to the National Museum (gallery of my pics below). It managed to represent all of Lebanon’s history – from the first settlements to the Civil War – in beautiful and surprising ways:

‘With Lebanon’s eleven thousand years of continual inhabitance, there are treasures from Neolithic stone tools to ancient Greek sarcophagi to iridescent Byzantine pilgrim flasks, all inflected by cultural crosscurrents. Against the museum’s external walls, in the open air, valuable and ancient statues and mosaics lean inexplicably.

Beirut's restored National Museum
Beirut’s restored National Museum

‘The museum is pristine, following a post-Civil War restoration, although the electricity cuts out at intervals like in many Beiruti buildings. Artefacts survived the war thanks to reflexive practicality and ingenuity: small items were stashed in the basement, which was walled up; mosaics on the floor were covered in concrete; large statues and tombs were encased in concrete around a wooden frame.

‘The building itself fared worse, a cracked roof and empty window frames allowing in water. Today, the final case of items in the museum contains shattered glass phials and metal objects left in their molten state, however they were when the shells and the fires subsided.’

First published here

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