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At a time when so many historic sites are being demolished in Lebanon, it’s refreshing to see that some in the country are also interested in preserving the past, and seeing a value in that.

Just last week I reported on the removal of an ancient Roman city wall in favor of a real estate project in Bachoura, Beirut– one among countless historic sites have been erased in the country in favor of Dubai-like prefabricated towers. But it is important to note that there are also rare victories for preservation and perceptions are changing about the value of historical spaces.

Take the current exhibition being held in the Grand Sofar Hotel, built in the late 1800s in the mountains above Beirut and once one of the most celebrated hotels in the Middle East. It was abandoned in the 1970s during the Lebanese war and probably occupied by various armed groups including the Syrian military.

But thanks to the art work of Tom Young, the hotel has welcomed guests for the first time in decades, as part of his latest residency.

As he has done before with projects like the Rose House (covered in this previous post) and Beit Boustani, Young spends several months or even years at a decaying and often threatened building, excavating its history and drawing paintings that are both conceptual and realistic, to convey an interpretation of a place’s past.

Tom often uses souvenirs or relics found in the buildings to help tell the story and frame the art. The Grand Sofar was also famous for its casino, where prime ministers, Kings, and spies probably tried their luck.

An old roulette table where the good times must have once rolled:

Often the pieces are paired with art and historical textual references. “I do not deny that I was fascinated by my first sight of this strange invention,” wrote the Lebanese novelist Ameen Rihani in his 1910 short story The Heart of Lebanon. “I considered myself lucky to have reached my long sought objective, which was to see the roulette,” he added in reference to the Sofar Casino, according to a caption prepared by Young.

In the kitchen, Young used old photographs to paint the chefs:

There is even an ancient kitchen elevator machine that looks like it may have been one of the first of its kind:

Old photographs of the former natural landscape around the hotel (now lined with houses and buildings) and old guest books are also on display:

A broken down piano:

Revived with new music during the opening night:

An ancient fridge, or was it an “ice box”?

But sometimes it is the items that are not on display, not part of the exhibition, that give additional meaning to the building’s story. Check out these vintage stickers, from old shops in Lebanon. Where these stuck up on the walls by the wartime militiamen, trying to making the place more homey?

Did they desire a more glamorous life than shooting at snipers?

There is even a homage to the 1980s hit Knight Ridder and its leading man, David Hasselhoff.

Photo: Tom Young

Meanwhile the hotel’s famous night club “Monkey Bar” may have seen better days:

But it’s brought back to life with an old Middle East Airlines advertisement:

And the revelatory scenes are recast by both Tom’s imagination and records of famous guests like legendary singers Oum Kulthum, Farid el Atrash and Asmahan.

I won’t spoil it all. There are dozens of more paintings and historical pieces to see, including memorabilia and portraits from the old trains that used to whisk guests to the hotel, photographs and records of famous patrons and politicians who frequented the place and more information about the owners from the super affluent Sursouk family.  (There are rumors that the family plan to reopen the hotel, perhaps as a cultural space.)

And needless to say, the backdrops are almost as rich as the installations.

Best of all, the exhibit is totally FREE and there are even occasional shuttle buses available. It’s open every day from 11AM-7PM except Mondays and runs until October 14th. 

There are also performances and events for children. For more info on Tom’s work and the show visit his website. Here is a video of the Hotel Sofar event, as well as one of his previous projects, Beit Boustani.

A rare and well-preserved ancient Roman wall that once surrounded Beirut has been dismantled. Photography of the site is not allowed, but from the street, a truck-mounted construction crane can be seen hoisting stones out of the major archaeological site in Bachoura, just off the Fouad Chehab highway that circles around downtown Beirut.

We can see a pile of stones has already been lifted from the site, which contains a rare Roman cemetery,  documented extensively in this previous post.

The sprawling Bachoura site is one of the largest archaeological sites in the city, unearthed just last year, with 250 tombs discovered and perhaps hundreds of relics. Its well-preserved masoleum buildings marked by ornate carved statues, may have been a resting place for important Roman citizens or generals who lived in ancient Beirut, when it was known as the famous colony of Berytus.

The graves, along with the wall and other features could have made for an interesting attraction and archaeological park, as found in many other parts of the world where Roman ruins are discovered. But as previously reported, the area, which borders the Beirut Digital District project, appears to be slated for high end real estate towers.

Here is an image of the site from last year:

And here is a close up on the wall:

We can see that it is at least 10 blocks high and appears to have a built in drain of sorts:

There even seems to be remnants of another structure at the top as seen below. Could it have been a tower or a gate or something else?

Today however, wall has been almost completely cleared as seen in this photo taken this week and there is now little trace of the structure, save for the wood pallets the remaining stones have been strapped onto for removal.

Photo by Max Cochrane

A reader sent me this photo, and was yelled at by site workers for taking it.

What will happen to this wall? Will we see it again, will it be taken to a warehouse to collect dust or will it be discarded altogether?

Remnants of Roman and pre-Roman walls have been uncovered in many parts of the city, but most have been dismantled or destroyed, never to be seen again.

What will happen to the rest of this site, such as the mausoleums and other features, including this interesting ancient drain pipe:

There are also some structures that look like basins and mosaic floors. Here we can see some children playing on the site last year.

Photo: MC

After my initial post last year, archaeologists managing the site appreciated the coverage and invited me for a site visit to help answer some of the questions about its future. But this visit was later rejected by the Directorate of Antiquities, which claimed the project had been paused for discussions with the developer and thus press coverage would be seen as ‘unhelpful’ and could hurt efforts to negotiate preservation. And yet today, absent media coverage the site seems to be disappearing, despite those closed door negotiations that promised to save it.

So why is it that heritage is “negotiated” in Lebanon in the first place and not mandated? Why are the talks with developers secretive, why is media coverage of sites strictly regulated and often not allowed?

Will the site be preserved or will it meet a similar fate as other ancient sites that have been destroyed such as Beirut’s famous Roman chariot race track, its Roman Theatre or the site believed to have been a 2,000 year old Phoenician port that was chiseled away by jackhammers?

For more on these sites, what they have told us about the story of ancient Berytus and what sites remain threatened, see my in-depth report on the cover of last month’s Monocle newspaper, available here.

And stay tuned for more highlights from the report, which was made possible with the support of an investigative journalism grant from Meedan.

 

UPDATE Sept. 17:

The day after this post was published, the Ministry of Culture-which had provided no explanation of the wall removal- issued a “clarification” on the Bachoura site, claiming that coverage by the media of the site was “inaccurate.” But the statement does not point out what info was inaccurate, and actually confirms that the wall and tombs on site date back to the Roman period, which is exactly as stated in the post above.

 

Interestingly, the release does not directly reference the removal of the wall but merely says that all ruins on site will be “merged” and “reintegrated” into the real estate project. There are no details on how this merging will take place. Will the ruins be buried in the basement of a new high rise tower, will they be used as decoration in the tower’s private garden? The release vaguely references the ministry’s abidance by scientific studies, but without noting what these studies say or why the site could not be preserved in its entirety.

According to the Ministry statement: “Based on the scientific reports and technical studies, the Ministry of Culture issued a decision to preserve these facilities by merging them and reintegrating them into the project to be established after conducting scientific and technical documentation according to the principles and under the supervision of the General Directorate of Antiquities.”

What the release does not say is how citizens would be able to access the ruins on a private property or that high end properties do not tend to open their doors to average citizens. Most importantly, the release does not tell us any details on how the decision was made to remove the wall, where it will be placed and why the site could not have been kept as it is, to create an archeological park as one would find in much of the world, when a large Roman complex is unearthed.

The question raised by this post remains: who decides the future of Beirut’s ruins and why are the public and the media not given details about how those decisions are made.

 

Archaeological excavations have been mushrooming across downtown Beirut over recent months, providing a glimpse at how the city looked and functioned in ancient times.

Site 1:

The most visible and perhaps most interesting of these is a bustling site located near the Saifi neighborhood:

Photo: Typhanie Cochrane

The site is quite dense and appears to resemble a once vibrant neighborhood, market or industrial city:

Photo: Typhanie Cochrane

Some 900 artifacts have already been recovered from the site, according to an article that appeared in L’Orient Le Jour, which also featured this facisnating drone photo as well as some images of the discoveries:

Among the finds is a first century wall, structures related to roman pottery workshops, well preserved ovens for tile-making, storage silos and vases for transporting oil and wine, a large pond (a possible rare public laundry pool) and a temple for the worship of Minerva, patroness of artisans, according to the article.

The L’Orient article noted that excavations could go on “until 2018” – does this mean a decision has been taken to dismantle and destroy the site as it appears here?

After all the piece of land is owned by SGBL Bank, which plans to build a new headquarters tower here, designed by Italian starchitech, Renzo Piano.

Site 2:

Just a few blocks away, Piano, who seems to be doing well in Beirut (with hundreds of millions of dollars of projects across the city), has also designed a long awaited Beirut archaeology museum, delayed for over two decades since its announcement in the 1990s. It is to be built near the An Nahar building, yet ironically, archaeology was discovered while constructing this archaeological museum.

Photo: Typhanie Cochrane
Notice in the background of this shot we can see the previous dig in Saifi, just behind the parking lot. Photo: Typhanie Cochrane 

Site 3:

Finally, a new excavation has just got started also in the Saifi area, not far from previous excavations at the Paul restaurant in Gemmayze.

The site is also across the street and a block up the road from the Saifi Plaza construction site, where a number of ruins also discovered, but have since been cleared away.

In fact, it is the proximity to other excavations which helps us better understand these sites, fill in blanks and provide a global view of ancient Beirut and its many layers of history.

However, increasingly many of these sites are being wiped out, replaced by lucrative real estate projects, tied to political and business elites. Sites that have already been wiped out include the famous chariot race track of ancient Roman Beirut, a site believed to have been a Phoenician era dry dock (potentially one of the world’s oldest shipyards) the remains of Beirut’s Roman theatre, as well as Hellenistic neighborhoods and other sites, including one in which I was assaulted by multi-million dollar developers for merely trying to take a photo of ruins on site.

I’ve created a quick map showing the three new excavations detailed in this post and how the relate to other nearby excavations that I have covered previously, both those that still exist as well as those that have been cleared and built over.

The sites in red are the three new and ongoing excavations detailed in this post.

-The sites in yellow are recent excavations whose fate remains unclear.

-The sites in blue are previous excavations that are currently on display, but with limited access or explanations.

-The sites in white have already been cleared and no longer exist. 

In fact even the few sites that have been preserved contain no signs or information detailing the discoveries to give the public a chance to appreciate them.

And note this map is only a glimpse of a wider reality in the city limited to sites I have personally witnessed or reported on in the last six to seven years. There are tons of sites just east of this map in the Ashrafieh neighborhood, as well as on the western side of downtown, such as the aforementioned demolished Beirut Roman Chariot Race track and Phoenician port site. Meanwhile the fate of many recently excavated sites such as the Roman Gate ruins at Riad Al Solh and the (royal?) Roman cemetery on the Beirut Digital District  property remain uncertain. Across the city and the country, dozens if not scores of archaeology sites have disappeared over recent decades, in favor of new high rise towers.

Stay tuned for more of our continuing coverage on archaeology in the city, what stays, what goes and who decides the fate of our historic spaces. Hint: It has a lot to do with money, power and real estate.

Investigating real estate and documenting ruins in downtown Beirut

With environmental disasters and public service dysfunction everywhere you look, there’s never been a better time to investigate Lebanon and a greater need for investigative reporting. Next week, I’ll be teaching a course on investigative journalism at AUB and I encourage all students who are interested in producing work with a social impact to sign up.

We’ll look at some of the past investigations I and other journalists have been involved in, investigations that have often led to real changes in policies and government practices, yes even in Lebanon.

These include investigations that revealed information that was hidden from the public including the destruction of priceless ruins in favor of real estate projects, and some projects that have been halted due to public pressure that followed reporting.

We’ll also look at how to investigate infrastructure projects such as the Boutros Highway, which was halted after reporting and public pressure campaigns that followed it, as well as the Janneh Dam, which remains ongoing despite the serious threat it poses to the national water supply and essential ecosystems protected for thousands of years. We will also look at the ongoing destruction of the coast and reporting and activist campaigns that intervened in contesting massive projects and pushing for new laws to protect public lands and hold politicians and business owners accountable.

With the garbage/airport/pollution/seagull massacre issues continuing, there will be plenty more to investigate as well as follow up on the issues mentioned above with more ruins, coastline and heritage threatened every day. For AUB students interested in the class, the CRN number is 22167.

UPDATE: For Fall 2017-18 the CRN is 10959 / MCOM244B

And for those who are not students,  Beirut Report is always looking for contributors. I walked through the process behind a couple of previous investigative stories during this TEDx talk last year and offered tips on how anyone can start an investigation, even if you are not a trained journalist:

So what are you waiting for, let’s investigate! You may not change the world (at least on the first try), but you may change your perspective on an issue and be able to share that with others to make an impact in your community, as some of these previous stories did.

For those interested in contributing to Beirut Report click on the “submit a story idea” tab on the top menu bar or get in touch via the “contact us” option if you don’t have a story yet but would like to get invovled.

 

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Perched on a hill along the rocky coast of North Lebanon, archaeologists have uncovered what they believe is one of the world’s oldest city settlements.

Archaeologists from the American University of Beirut believe the site dates back to the Early Bronze Age in the third millennium BC, a pre-Phoenician period, key to understanding the development of human urbanization.

The sprawling site, which until recently spanned an area of 15,000 square meters, may be connected to the ancient port city of Byblos, a few kilometers south.

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Among the discoveries are what is believed to be the world’s oldest scale beam, a major find that could reinforce the view that the site was a very early trading hub, indicated by signs of food storage or warehousing.

Unlike other ruins found across Lebanon, little was ever built on top of the site, giving archaeologists a rare unobstructed peak into the Early Bronze Age without having to decipher which parts of the site may have been damaged or manipulated by subsequent civilizations.

Nine cylinder seals have been found on the site just over the last 10 years, compared to 20 seals found in Byblos after 50 years of excavations.

Here an archaeologist holds up one of the seals that were found:

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These were probably rolled on wet clay and baked to produce the following imprints, which also indicate the presence of large animals such as lions that once inhabited the area:

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With this many seals found over such a short time, the indication is that so much more may be hidden across this site. Archaeologists are literally digging up new discoveries on every corner of the hill. Notice how close the ruins are to the surface, just inches below the dirt floor.

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The settlement was surrounded by fortified walls, towers and a range of building types including large public buildings with administrative equipment, storage buildings, homes of different classes, all connected via a network of roads. Archaeologists say that the planned urbanization and assemblage of different structures over a dense area may indicate a more complicated socio-political system than previously known in the Levant area during this period.

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Here is a zoom out revealing how many areas remain un-excavated:

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One can only imagine how impressive it would be to unearth the thousands of remaining square meters of archaeology and what secrets the site may hold of the past, such as why the settlement was believed to have been abandoned in the second millennium.

But with dozens of beach resorts and bars now crowding the once-natural and open northern coastline, this massive discovery also sits on prime investment property. Even though it has survived over 5,000 years of human history, there are now fears that the ancient settlement may become the latest victim of modern Lebanese real estate development.

About a third of the 1.5 hectare site was already bulldozed around 2004, as seen in the large flattened area in the foreground:

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The destruction was only halted when an archaeology student reportedly spotted the bulldozing and notified officials. Meanwhile, a new resort has already been built near one end of the remaining site and word among locals is that there is a possibility of expansion. (See update below post)

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Other landowners are determined to begin construction within the archeological site, locals say.

Last month AUB archaeologists gave a tour of the hill to villagers from the nearby towns of Kfarabida and Faddous with the hope that they may have a stake in preserving it.

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But should preserving one of the world’s oldest cities be a strictly local affair? Or should this site be completely excavated and preserved as an internationally-recognized archeological park? Will authorities have the resources and political will to stop further development of the site? Or will they cower to the demands of private capital, as has happened so often in the past?

Archaeologists say a number of ancient sites have already been destroyed along the Lebanese coast to make way for resort developments and this may one of the last that remains of its era. Will it become a rare laboratory for understanding human civilization or another banal concrete hotel with the usual mix of exclusive cabanas and private swimming pools?

I plan to continue researching these questions as part of a crowd-funded investigative reporting project I’m working on with the international journalist network, Press Start.  You can support the project here. There is only about a week left to contribute.  (Update: the campaign has been extended. You can still contribute!)

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Click here to contribute to the project

 

UPDATE 2: Philip Feghaly, who has identified himself as the owner of the existing resort built near the end of the site (seen in the photo above), has commented on this post saying that his plan is to install prefabricated structures on the part of the archeological site that exists on his property. He says that this decision was part of a compromise reached with the AUB archeological team. Mr. Feghaly says there will be no destruction of the ruins on his portion of the property because the prefabricated homes will not require any digging into the ruins. However there is still concern among both locals and archeologists that if structures are placed on top of the ruins, that the ruins will remain buried and it is not clear how the public may be able to view or experience them. Also, as stated in the post above, there is more than one property owner involved in the land, and locals have told me that other owners are still eyeing the site for hotel development. In short, the fate of the site remains unclear and despite compromises, no solid plans have been presented for how the public will access this priceless piece of human history.

We often worry about extremists groups like ISIS destroying history in the Middle East. But in Beirut, private capital and well-connected developers are also wiping away relics of our ancient past. The following column was first published in Bold Magazine.

 

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Partially excavated Roman hippodrome walls in Beirut. The site has now been cleared for private development

By Habib Battah

 

With its grand chariot races and some 200,000 spectators, the Circus Maximus was the greatest stadium in the Roman empire and remains one of the largest in human history. Today however, it is little more than a sunken green field in the heart of contemporary Rome. Spanning over half a kilometer in length, this plot of land may have seemed lucrative to real estate developers, but the Circus grounds have been preserved as a public park. Compare this to Beirut, where a major Roman chariot race track was recently uncovered but its grounds are now being destroyed to make way for six luxury villas.

In fact, when it was unearthed only a few years ago, Beirut’s Roman racecourse or hippodrome contained far more ruins than can be seen in Rome’s Circus Maximus today. But few Lebanese would have a chance to look at them.

Working secretly behind large construction walls, archaeologists discovered what was believed to be a section of the 2,000 year old stadium seats, the paved central median where an obelisk was placed, dozens of columns, corinthians and carved features as well as a 100 meter stretch of the foundation wall, forming a loop that traces the path of the ancient race circuit. But all this meant little to the villa developer, who incidentally was a minister in cabinet when he began construction.

The minister, Marwan Kheireddine, claimed the land was worth $60 million and thus could not be sacrificed. When asked if preserving the site might also have a value, he shrugged. “Ninety percent of the hippodrome is gone,” he told me during an interview for the BBC a little over a year ago. His colleague, then Culture Minister Gaby Layoun had green-lighted the project, defying three previous culture ministers who had called for the site to be protected.

The Lebanese public, which is largely kept in the dark about archeological discoveries, only got wind of the story through news leaks. A protest was organized and complaint lodged at the Beirut governor’s office, but it was too little too late and construction resumed a few weeks later. Today, a giant crater pierces through the heart of the remaining hippodrome track. Because the site is near the home of former prime minister Saad Hariri, access and photography of the area is strictly prohibited. The destruction can only be seen from Google Earth.

2015:

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A gaping hole has been punctured in the hippodrome grounds to make way for development. Compare with below image from 2013.

2013:

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The hippodrome grounds in 2013 before it was destroyed for real estate excavation.

 

The Beirut race track is believed to have been one of the greatest of five hippodromes in the Levant, a testimony to the importance given to ancient Berytus in the Roman Empire. First century texts reveal that 1,400 gladiators fought there in a single day.

Looking out across the barren Circus Maximus grounds during a recent visit to Rome, I remembered the minister’s words: “What we found is not worth preserving,” he had told me. But who makes that decision and on what criteria is it based?

Why is barren chariot track protected in modern Rome, a city full of well-preserved ruins, while a track with extensive remains is not worthy of preservation in Beirut, where so little is known about the city’s prominent Roman past? Unsurprisingly, neither the developer nor the culture minister have any background in ancient history or archeology. They claim to have relied on experts, but their deliberations were never made public.

It’s not only world history that is at stake. Contemporary Rome is a verdant city full of towering pine trees and gorgeous parks yet planners still felt it was prudent to keep the Circus Maximus as an additional open space. It is also used to host community events and concerts. Last year The Rolling Stones performed on the Circus grounds, drawing over 70,000 fans.

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The Circus Maximus in Rome is largely a green field, yet it was still preserved as a historic and public space.

 

Contemporary Beirut, by contrast, is an urban jungle with a pittance of green or public space. Its pines–once similar to those in Rome– have largely been decimated by development and there are no large parks open to the public. With its grassy hillside and scattered columns, the Beirut hippodrome provided an opportunity not only to preserve national heritage and inspire future generations but also to add some breathing room to a labyrinth of concrete sprawl. One can imagine the space attracting tourists and locals alike– a history class field trip or just a place to enjoy lunch in the city while imagining its storied past. “It could have been a destination,” veteran Dutch archaeologist Hans Curvers, who led the Beirut hippodrome excavation, told me.  But now in the hippodrome’s place, there will be more walls and security guards, yet another gated community accessible only to a few millionaires.

Minister Kheireddine, who owns a bank and several other real estate projects, touts the fact that he has offered to host a fraction of the hippodrome wall in his compound’s car garage. The public will supposedly be able to glimpse a portion of its stone surface through a ground window. But the neighborhood is so tightly policed to protect its well-heeled residents that pedestrians are not even allowed anywhere near the street that leads to his project.

The hippodrome is not the only ancient site lost to speculative luxury real estate. Activists and archaeologists say dozens of ruins have been discovered and razed during the post-war reconstruction of central Beirut. Many of those sites have been replaced by the type of glass and steel towers one can find in any city. Drive past them at night you’ll find barely a light on. Obviously few Lebanese can afford their astronomical price tags, and those who can are often wealthy foreign nationals seeking a rarely used vacation home. Why are such projects given more weight than sites that could benefit the local population, who actually live in Lebanon?

The silver lining is that outside the capital, away from the unregulated construction boom, many priceless sites have survived. Among them is the temple of Bacchus in Baalbeck, which is in far better shape than most of what one encounters in Rome. In fact, a temple that looks like Bacchus can only be seen as a 3D rendering in videos shown at Italian museums that give visitors an idea of what ancient Rome once looked like. Detailed descriptions, artist sketches and audio guides can also be found at nearly all sites, bringing the ruins to life and helping visitors further appreciate where they are standing and what they are looking at. But at ancient sites across Lebanon, one can rarely find a text sign, let alone an interactive exhibit. Should we be surprised then, that locals often ignore these wonders, which frequently fall into disrepair, abandoned or laden with piles of garbage?

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Still from a video presentation at a Roman museum. Multi-media visuals help visitors appreciate ancient sites, where little remains today, such as present day Palantine Hill below.
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Ruins at Palatine Hill are less preserved than many temples in Lebanon, yet Lebanese authorities barely provide signs to present them to the public.

Over recent years and through the help of social media, activist groups have offered a ray of hope, standing up to well-connected developers by secretly documenting discoveries at construction sites, enduring harassment or physical assault. Those in power should make their lives easier. We know that our political leaders–many of them millionaires– enjoy the attractions of foreign cities, a few even have villas in Italy. Would it be too much to ask them to help celebrate some of those same features at home? Would it be too much to ask our leaders to prioritize national treasures that can be enjoyed for generations over get-rich-quick schemes that will mainly benefit their family and friends?

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There has been an ongoing dig for quite some time at the beginning of Gouraud Street–the main street in Gemmayze–just across the street from the Sacre Coeur school.

Recently a truck was parked in front of the site, with a small ramp feeding into it. I’m not sure if this was for the removal of ruins or construction materials. I noticed a small gap in the canvas and went to check it out.

Below I found some workers or archeologists. The first to look up and spot me began yelling–“No photos!”

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I decided to come back the next day, when the workers were gone, to get a better look:

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An activist told me the site could have been a water channel, possibly during the Roman period, but this is yet to be verified.

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From the number of blue crates stacked up next to the site, it seems quite a few artifacts were discovered. Hopefully the new concrete wall and columns did not affect the excavation, though they were built very close to the ruins.

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I wonder if this dig will reveal more about Roman Beirut, an extraordinary city in the empire, as I have covered in the past, despite repeated harassment from developers and ministry of culture employees. Unfortunately many of the ruins of ancient Berytus, including the Roman hippodrome, are now being dismantled to make way for luxury housing.

Incidentally, I visited this same site almost two years ago. At the time it was a garbage swamp:

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This plot seems awfully tiny for a tower. Wouldn’t it have been great if they kept it as a small garden with ruins? God knows, we could all use some breathing space in this city.

Soon after posting about the ruins discovered at the Saifi Plaza excavation, an activist got in touch over a Facebook thread and shared a series of photos of the dig in the months before it was cleared. 
Raja Noujaim, a member of the Association for the Protection of Lebanese Heritage, said the first two photos were taken when the digging reached the Ottoman period: 
And the second two when the digging reached deeper, into the Roman period, possibly thermal baths. 

Noticed what appears to be a canal system.

For fun, I googled images of Roman Baths and I found these in England on a travel blog:
Source: 
(You can take a really cool virtual tour of the Baths on their website)

I wonder if baths in ancient Berytus looked anything those in England? Or maybe nothing like them? Or maybe what was found at Saifi were not necessarily baths, though there are many discovered nearby and around the city. If anyone has any more info please share! 

There appears to be nothing left of a major downtown Beirut excavation that took place here a month ago. Compare the photo above to photos I took in June:
In June, we could see a series of tents as archeologists worked on the site, which is located in Saifi:

But today, the tents have been completely cleared. Here is another recent shot, panning right:
 
In both the new and old photos we can see a large number of blue crates in the background, meaning dozens if not hundreds of ancient artifacts were found on site.
The project going up here is a block of luxury apartments known as Saifi Plaza. 
The development had previously been called Saifi Gardens, when I first took pictures of the site in March
So what was found here? 
If anyone has any knowledge of the site or knows someone who might, please leave a comment and I would be happy to update the post with details.
The project is actually taking up a second plot of land, where it appears digging continues till today:

These sites are located not far from the city center, where many ruins of Roman Beirut, including the city gate , hippodrome and theatre complex are believed to have been discovered. Could this site reveal yet more pieces to the puzzle that is Roman Berytus, one of the most prominent cities in the empire?

It’s not been easy to post about Beirut with all the carnage happening in Gaza. But that doesn’t mean Lebanese developers have paused their activities. Here are some pictures I took a few weeks ago in Gemmayaze, where a new tower is coming up.

The ruins were discovered during the course of excavation works for the new tower, known as Saifi 477. The dig is on Pasteur street, just below the pubs on the Gourand street strip.

The 21 floor tower will offer apartments ranging from first floor one bedrooms in the $600,000’s to luxury split-level units at over $1.4 million according to the prices on offer at this sale site.

Of course, the developer walls block the excavation off almost entirely from public view and as usual, I got yelled at by site supervisors for trying to take pictures. So also as usual, I could only get a few quick snaps from a nearby building and a brief opening of the gate.

The site sits in the middle of an old neighbourhood, as seen by the red roof buildings nearby–meaning the foundations of previous structures were not very deep, so a lot of the ancient ruins could be preserved in the layers below.

Some suggest the site could be significant, maybe even pre-Roman or stretching back to earlier periods, but it’s impossible to speculate. 
I wonder what the ancient architects who once lived here would make of the $1.4 million homes now up for sale. It would have probably blown their ancient socks off!