Beirut developers destroy ancient Phoenician port
Published Tuesday, June 26, 2012
Construction workers began bulldozing an ancient Phoenician port in Beirut on Tuesday, sparking outrage from activists who had hoped to see the heritage site protected by the Lebanese government.
The site had been earmarked for development earlier in the year, but was held up due to continued protests directed at Lebanese Minister of Culture Gaby Layoun.
Giorgio Tarraf, spokesperson for the Save Beirut Heritage group, said Tuesday's shock construction work breached an understanding that was supposedly reached with Layoun to preserve ancient stones while leaving room for development.
"They (government) were talking about some sort of mitigation approach where they move the stones and preserve them in a way that would be leave room for development. Not even that happened – today nothing is going to remain," Tarraf told Al-Akhbar.
Tarraf was taken by complete surprise at the construction work, and rushed to the site when news reached him of bulldozers destroying the ancient port.
He said that they were destroying "absolutely everything. There was no trace of the site."
"The first bit has been completed and now they have started to dig into the bedrock," he said angrily.
Save Beirut Heritage, along with a number of other groups, called for an immediate rally in front of the Ministry of Culture in Beirut to demand an explanation from Layoun.
"We want to go there and try to get the minister to talk to us. We have been trying to get a meeting and we haven't been able to get hold of him for a few weeks. We have to talk to him to know what happened so it doesn't happen again," Tarraf said.
Beirut's heritage sites are under continuous threat from real estate developers seeking to wash away the city's 5,000 year old history.
Activists and archaeologists have long campaigned to protect the city's heritage sites from development.
But Lebanon is also one of the most corrupt countries in the world, and real estate companies enjoy strong political backing.
Tarraf said activists had tried to lobby the UN's cultural body, UNESCO, to intervene to protect the Phoenician port from developers, and the corrupt political elite indifferent to Beirut's heritage.
"We sent a report to ESCWA (Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia). They [in turn] sent a letter to the ministry, but we have no idea what was the ministry's response. Obviously it was not positive," he said.
Leila Badre, Director of the Archaeological Museum at the American University of Beirut (AUB), said she was "disappointed" that the destruction went ahead, and criticized developers for not allowing another expert to survey the archaeological ruins.
"I'm disappointed that they didn't allow another expert [to survey the site]," she said.
Beirut has very few Phoenician ruins, whose Canaanite civilization flourished along the Levantine coast roughly 4,000 years ago.