Thursday 29 July 2021 – Nearly one year ago, Beirut’s most historic neighborhoods were imperiled when a double explosion rocked Beirut’s downtown on 4 August 2020. To quantify the damage, an emergency evaluation launched by the Lebanese Directorate General of Antiquities (DGA) and the network of cultural heritage experts from Beirut Built Heritage Rescue 2020 (BBHR2020) reported that about 350 houses were damaged, of which about 80 were in very bad condition, or even likely to collapse. This risk was compounded by the threat of rainwater infiltration in the upcoming rainy season. Another emergency assessment by the World Bank further reported that within the blast radius, almost half the national monuments, three-quarters of the museums, and nearly all the libraries and archives had been impacted.
Since the day of the blast, ALIPH has been by Beirut’s side to help stabilize and protect its damaged heritage. ALIPH quickly initiated a “Statement of solidarity with Lebanon and support to recover the damaged cultural heritage in Beirut,” signed by nearly 40 ministries of culture, heritage operators, museums, and international organizations around the world, as well as its Beirut Action Plan, earmarking USD 5 million to contribute to the stabilization and rehabilitation of the city’s cultural heritage. To carry it out, ALIPH has been cooperating throughout the year with the DGA and international organizations, such as UNESCO, ICOM, ICOMOS, and Blue Shield, in addition to more than 30 Lebanese partners (Blue Shield Lebanon, Sursock Museum, Saint Joseph University, National Heritage Foundation, as part of the Beirut Heritage Initiative Campaign (BHI), Ecole supérieure des affaires (ESA), and others) and international groups (Institut français du Proche-Orient (Ifpo), the Musée du Louvre, the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture, the Institut National du Patrimoine (INP-Paris), Prince Claus Fund, Oeuvre d’Orient, Monumenta Orientalia, and more).
To date, ALIPH has supported 18 projects for USD 2.35 million, financing emergency measures to stabilize more than 30 historical houses under imminent threat of collapse and to rehabilitate monuments, religious buildings, and cultural institutions.
Among the stabilized heritage buildings is the Sursock Palace, renowned for its Ottoman architecture representative of 19th century patrician houses, decorative arts, and unique works of art. Located just 500 meters from the blast, the building was heavily damaged. In a project completed by the National Heritage Foundation as part of BHI, in partnership with the Ecole supérieure des affaires (ESA), urgent stabilization efforts included installing temporary coverings of the roof and windows and propping up the façade. Just down Sursock Road, a street lined with 18th and 19th century villas, the roof and windows of the Villa Mokbel were stabilized with ALIPH’s support, and debris was removed so a full-scale conservation project can be carried out.
ALIPH also supported rehabilitation projects for 2 schools (for their heritage component), 2 cathedrals, 2 libraries, and the buildings or collections of 4 museums. For example, the Archaeological Museum of the American University of Beirut, which houses artifacts from the Chalcolithic Age to the Islamic Period, saw a vitrine explode during the blast, damaging over 70 objects made of glass. Thanks to the responsiveness of museum staff and the assistance of a glass conservator from the Institut National du Patrimoine (INP), an emergency conservation lab was set up and the fragments were sorted and consolidated. At the Sursock Museum, another conservator from the INP conducted an emergency mission to evaluate the most damaged pieces and recondition 10 of them.
“ALIPH was the first international organization to be at our side. I must say that we were able to sign a contract, come to an agreement, and figure out all the logistics in just one month! It was very fast, very, very fast.” Zeina Arida, Director of the Sursock Museum
“I warmly thank the ALIPH Foundation for the emergency aid that it immediately provided to the National Museum, the Sursock Museum, as well as the historical buildings,” Dr. Sarkis Khoury, Director of the DGA
Now, one year later, the work in Beirut continues. ALIPH wishes to support the rehabilitation of a block of public and private historical houses, still to be defined. In addition, ALIPH will continue to support the transformation of the Sursock Palace into a house-museum about Beirut’s history to be opened to local and international visitors. To contribute to this ambitious project, ALIPH already hosted a webinar in March 2021 with the owners of the Sursock Palace and international experts.
All these initiatives include an important training component in building, handicrafts, or the arts. They also contribute to boosting economic activity, particularly essential given the acute crisis in Lebanon today.
For more information: www.aliph-foundation.org
ALIPH’s 2020 Annual Report: https://bit.ly/3rEa6Jf
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The International alliance for the protection of heritage in conflict areas (ALIPH) is the only global fund exclusively dedicated to the protection and rehabilitation of cultural heritage in conflict zones and post-conflict situations. It was created in response to the massive destruction of cultural heritage 10 years ago, predominantly as a result of terrorism and war in the Middle East and the Sahel.
ALIPH was founded in 2017 as a public-private partnership assembling eight countries and three private donors. Based in Geneva, this Swiss foundation has the status of an international organization.
To date, ALIPH has committed more than USD 35 million to support over 100 projects in 22 countries on 4 continents. Wherever possible ALIPH strives to finance projects that are carried out on the ground. In all cases, ALIPH’s objective is to work hand in hand with local partners, authorities, and communities.