In a surprise announcement, Culture Minister Gaby Layoun said today that ancient Roman and Byzantine ruins discovered in central Beirut will be preserved on site.
This means the $150 million Jean Nouvel mall and hotel project “cannot continue” Layoun told the Daily Star.
The announcement comes just days after activists revealed the presence of an ancient Roman gate on site, carried both by this blog and the Daily Star and less than 48 hours after I published pictures of mosaics that could mark Lebanon’s oldest church.
However Layoun said he was “convinced to take this decision months ago” and had been “waiting for the right time to make the announcement.”
This contrasts a report published last week where an archeologist was quoted as saying Layoun had insisted the Nouvel project, known as Landmark “be revived” during a meeting on site.
Uncertainty about the ministry’s position at Landmark was also relayed to me just two weeks ago by two archeologists who had knowledge of the matter.
Considering the ministry’s unpredictable decision-making process and Layoun’s demolition approval record, activists tell me citizens must remain vigilant as a number of other excavations are currently ongoing across town.
The minister may not want to admit it, but the pictures of ruins on this site got a lot of attention on social media in terms of likes, shares and retweets in the days and hours leading up to his announcement today. This proves citizen voices can be heard sometimes, even in Lebanon. So keep your cameras ready!