Art brings life to the ruins of Beit Meri

Too often on this site, I have covered the destruction of ancient ruins in favor of new developments. But what if the new could coexist with the past without disfiguring or destroying it?

I was really pleased to learn about the exhibit “Lost in the right direction” currently taking place at the Beit Meri Roman/Byzantine ruins. When I visited this place a few years ago, this site had been overgrown and littered with garbage. But thanks to the organizers, a vast expanse of the site is now visible and art works are interspersed with relics of the past.

The Roman/Byzantine settlement of Beit Meri

It’s also just a great place to just go for walk, with many paths to choose.

One of the coolest features of the site is a Roman-style bath:

Drop by Drop by Gaïa Fodoulian and Nathaniel Rackowe

The mechanics of th e baths, the underground heating chamber or hypocaust, is still largely in tact, and in typical Lebanese fashion, can be viewed through a dangerous hole in the ground.

It’s just amazing to think these seemingly mundane floors and walls have survived for hundreds if not thousands of years.

And of all the sites I have been to in Lebanon, I have rarely seen brick work, which is uncommon even in modern local architecture today. Does this mean the material was imported?

But the centerpiece of the site is the intricate mosaic floors:

While it’s a privilege to be able to get so close to these ancient furnishings, it’s also a bit sad that there is no basic protection from the weather, something I’ve noticed even at mosaics just outside the national museum and offices of the Directorate of Antiquities. This really puts the minuscule resources of the Lebanese Ministry of Culture into perspective. It cannot even guard priceless artifacts with the most simple plexiglass cover. Sadly, it is largely through private efforts like this one that we can appreciate our heritage.

Beyond the Roman/Byzantine periods, the Beit Meri site contains so many layers of history. There are olive presses from presumably more recent times as well as a relatively contemporary stone farm house that contains some of the exhibit’s artworks.

The stone house has a modern archaeology of its own: reinforced barricades and graffiti praising the late Syrian president speaks to a time in which the building was occupied by Syrian troops and the battles that may have taken place there. Like much of Lebanon, the layers of the past are myriad at this site, and they stretch to the most recent of the country’s multitude of tragedies.

The exhibit itself was put on by a group called Art Design Lebanon (AD Leb), which was founded by Gaïa Fodoulian who envisioned the platform as ” inclusive, innovative, edgy and offbeat, a place where you could discover the work of emerging and established practitioners and engage with other art and design enthusiasts.” Sadly, Gaia was killed in the Beirut port explosion but her mother has carried on the work as a tribute to her.

You can read more about AD Leb on their website and follow their instagram page. Many of the works are for sale.

I haven’t shared most of the pieces on display because I would like you to visit the site yourself and support those who are still trying to build a common space in this country. But I will leave you with a few below. Many toy with the idea of preservation as well as fusing the past with the present. The exhibition runs until January 9th. It is located very close to the Der El Kalaa church and ruins site (also great to visit), which can be found on Google Maps.

Column envelope by Christian Zahr
Bench made of all locally sourced materials by Sibylle Tarazi

And here is a short video on the story of Gaïa and her mother Annie Vartivarian, to whom we owe credit for keeping this place and her memory alive.

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