Many readers of this blog will remember when I was physically assaulted by site staff at the excavation for the $300 million District S development in downtown Beirut last year.
I was basically locked inside the site, surrounded and tackled by contractors, who pulled my arms until I released my camera and agreed to delete the photos I had taken of the ruins inside. Reporters from Reuters and The Daily Star were also harassed and prevented from taking photos. My story got a lot of press but I was never able to recover the pictures I was forced to delete.
Thanks to activist Raja Noujaim, now we can get a sense of what was discovered there and what I saw before being jumped. Noujaim uploaded these two pictures (above and below) to Facebook today.
In his description, Noujaim claims there was a Roman fountain on the site and that it proved to be an important discovery of the city during the Hellenistic period. This is a sharp contrast to claim made by contractors that there were “no ruins on site.”
Last year, The Daily Star was able to capture some of the dismantling from a distance, before site workers threatened to break the photographer’s camera:
Today, however the site has been entirely concreted over as seen in this Google Earth image:
So what happened to all the ruins? Spokespersons for the developer have sometimes claimed some of them will be integrated into the project. But how much will be saved and will the placement be historically accurate and accessible to the public? Or will the placement of ruins be merely be cosmetic, used as decorative pieces in private gardens?
Another key question is who makes decisions on such sites and why is public access to ruins so limited that you can literally get roughed up just for taking pictures before they are gone?