It survived some 2,000 years of wars and conquest, but the wall above is now gone. Archeologists believe it belonged to the Roman Hippodrome of Beirut, one of the great Herodian structures of ancient Berytus.
After a century of searching, it was only unearthed a few months ago. But after a fierce legal battle with activists, the developer has prevailed in removing the surviving wall of the hippodrome–one of only five known in the Middle East– to make way for luxury housing units.
In this picture taken yesterday, we can see a gaping hole in the earth (red arrow) strewn with the rubble of the wall. It lied just left of the modern wall (green arrow), which the developer built a few years ago, after acquiring the property.
Compare this with a picture taken a few months ago, from a slightly different angle. We can see the modern wall with columns (green arrow), which was dug by the developer. And just facing it we can see the Roman wall (red arrow) before it was removed:
Again, here is how the wall looked before:
It was just one segment in the 200 meter oval track, which may have looked something like this:
Much more of the hippodrome wall and stands, as well as an adjacent Roman theatre, is believed to be buried around the site in the green areas below. Archeologists admit they have not finished the excavation works.
But all of this land has been sold–even before archeological excavations could take place. And development has been approved by the Ministry of Culture.
Meanwhile activists from the Association for the Protection of Lebanese Heritage (APLH) are continuing to fight the developer to stop the project and possibly get the wall returned. Read more about the legal battle and the history of the hippodrome in my recent article for the BBC, which includes more pictures of the site. Also see my follow-up post about the continuation of the dismantlement a week after the article was published.
While the developer has promised to bring part of the wall back to be placed in the basement of his buildings, it may be difficult to access for the public. Activists say the site should be an open air one, with a possible reconstruction of the Roman columns that are scattered across the area.
They say there are enough buried ruins on the site to give visitors a good sense of what the hippodrome looked like, which will be impossible if the development goes forward and the site is covered in new buildings.
There are also fears that any basement reconstruction will destroy parts of the wall, particularly its ancient canal structure as seen here running beneath the wall and into the modern wall:
With openings on top and on the sides.
In addition to building over the entire site, a restoration project may also fail to preserve many of these elements. I’ll have more on this soon and the continuing legal battle that the APLH vows to press on with. They say the Council of State has been reviewing the case for several weeks, but has yet to issue a decision.
The hope is that the site could be preserved by government decree, as was recently the case with the Roman gate and ancient church discovered in Riad al Solh, where a series of pictures posted by this blog contributed to pressure on authorities to stop development of a multi-million dollar tower.
Raja Noujaim, a member of the APLH who has been leading the legal battle, has just informed me that the case has been lying before the Council of State for three months with no verdict yet.