Beirut: Luxury Condo Lobby Now Roman Bath Museum

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In a few weeks, archaeologists will finish integrating the Roman baths on property 616 Saifi, finally turning the building’s entrance into a bonafide museum. (Photo: Marwan Tahtah)

By: Joanne Bajjaly

Published Thursday, June 13, 2013

In 2008, archaeologists found huge Roman baths in the Saifi area of Beirut. The baths were dismantled and later integrated into the new building project. Some clay ruins were damaged, but a sizeable part remained intact. Now there’s a new challenge facing the ancient baths: keeping them open to the public.

In a few weeks, archaeologists will finish integrating the Roman baths on property 616 Saifi, finally turning the building’s entrance into a bonafide museum.

The prospective museum is not located on government-owned property, but instead that of the Kuwait-based real estate development company al-Massaleh.

When the baths were discovered, it was testimony to the historical treasures lying just beneath the city of Beirut. Included in the bath complex are three principal rooms for hot, warm, and cold baths. The bath is distinguished from two similar baths in Beirut by its 23-ton basin carved from red granite.

Assad Seif, who is in charge of archaeological excavations at the Lebanese Directorate General of Antiquities (DGA), explained: “The importance of the find prompted the DGA to propose integrating the remains inside the residential project in an attempt to preserve them.”

A compromise was reached over a relatively smooth negotiation process. The property owner welcomed turning the building’s entrance into a museum and took on the costs of the archaeological excavation.

The unearthed ruins were preserved in a DGA and the construction project. The owner asked George Jaro, an archaeologist and architect specializing in restoration, for assistance in maintaining the integrity of the baths.

“Dismantling and integrating the unearthed remains was not an easy feat,” said Jaro. “The upper part of the Roman baths’ warm room was preserved, its floor adorned with a mosaic and white marble. These pieces were displayed in their original locations, which would become the building’s lobby.”

He continued, “The floor of the cold and hot rooms had been destroyed by the old building constructed in the 1950s. The only thing left there were the clay structures that were used in the hypocaust, or underfloor heating, system.”

“Later on, light will be installed and the remains will be covered with a glass floor allowing visitors to view them from all directions. Entering the building will be like entering a museum of Roman baths and explanatory placards will adorn the walls.”

Seif explained that the pieces on exhibit are owned by the Lebanese state, but were “loaned to the property owners to be displayed as public property and they have the right to market them.”

But who stands to benefit the most from this compromise, the visitors or the property owner? The latter achieved both moral and material gains. After all, a museum in the building’s entrance raised the property value.

According to Jaro, “The cost of excavating and integrating the unearthed ruins is no more than two percent of the investment value. What is certain however is that the profit rendered is significantly more.”

The main challenge that awaits this “foyer museum” on private property is opening it to the public for free. Otherwise, the right to witness this part of Beirut’s Roman history firsthand will be restricted to those making personal visits to the owners of property 616 Saifi.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Comments

Assaad Seif is a crook and not an archaeologist. he has conspired with the so-called Minister of Culture in many similar cases where in other cities such finds would become public land...

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