CULTURE The National Museum of Beirut is situated in one of the world's most historical cities, so it is only fitting that the museum itself comes with a rich and at times complex history of it's own.
The story begins in the year 1919 when the French officer, Raymond Weill, had collected ancient artefacts during his time stationed in Lebanon. From this collection a temporary museum was created in the German Deaconesses building and by 1923 an official founding committee was formed, headed by then Prime Minister and Minister of Education and Fine Arts, Bechara El Khoury. The aim of this new-found committee was to raise enough funds to oversee the construction of a museum in Beirut's Hippodrome area, on the road to Damascus. Building officially commenced in 1930, going by the design created by renowned architects of the time, Antoine Nahas and Pierre Leprince Ringuet and after several years, work finally came to completion in 1937.
At the time of completion the world was leading upto the second world war and so the opening was postponed until 1942, when it was finally opened by President Alfred Naqqache. For the next few decades the museum was a welcome establishment in the city of Beirut, a place where one could go to be transported back in time through incredible ancient artifacts and timeless pieces.
The peace, however was not to last for long, the museum found itself caught on the lines dividing the city during the Lebanese civil war. In 1973 it was decided that the museum would temporarily close it's doors amid the destruction of the city. Authorities sought to carefully guard the antiques by placing objects in storage in the museum's walled up underground floor and building concrete cases around heavy objects and mosaics. Unfortunately these pre-cautionary methods were not quite enough to keep the war out. The museum was ravaged by water flooding, bullet holes around the walls and grafiti. Many artifacts were completely lost due to the heavy shellfire during the period, others were destroyed beyond repair.
Nevertheless, the Minister of Culture, Michel Edde was determined to restore the museum to it's former glory days. After the first plans for restoration were initially refused, the museum finally found the donations it needed so restoration could begin. Restoration officially started in 1995 and the doors were finally ready to re-open in 1999, the museum now displayed over 1300 artifacts and the collection continues to grow to present day.
The National Museum is a landmark of Beirut, after years of turbulence and tests, the museum stands tall today due to steele determination to preserve the precious and priceless world history it holds inside it's walls.
Text Karen Athwal