BEIRUT: A Lebanese heritage nongovernmental organization has mounted a petition aimed at protecting part of an alleged Phoenician port from demolition in the capital’s Downtown area.
The petition, led by the Association for the Protection of Lebanese Heritage, had gathered over 600 signatures Tuesday, after being launched last week.
The NGO claims that archeologists from the Directorate General of Antiquities, which falls under the Culture Ministry, found two canals, which would have led to a port, dating to 500 B.C., while investigations were under way ahead of a $500 million development project on the site.
However, Michel De Chadarevian, an adviser to Culture Minister Gaby Layyoun, claims no such discovery was found. The port to which the activists are referring to is merely part of an original wall, De Chadarevian told The Daily Star.
The ministry has now tasked archaeologists with investigating the site, on Plot 1398 in Mina al-Hosn behind the Monroe Hotel and has put a pause on all permits to Venus Real Estate Development Co., which owns the site, to allow it to begin work.
Giorgio Tarraf, an activist with the youth group Save Beirut Heritage, admits the issue is “very controversial.”
“There are very differing opinions on this, and I’m not an archeologist but in my opinion it’s a ramp, which might have formed part of a port,” he said.
Pascale Ingea, founder and president of the Association for the Protection of Lebanese Heritage, plans to hand the petition to the Culture Ministry after one week.
“The ministry is doing a lot of really good work: It’s not necessarily that they don’t want to do good, but there’s a lot of politics involved,” she said. “The contractors have a lot of power.”
But Layyoun’s adviser is adamant that the ministry is not allowing Venus Real Estate to build on the land until investigations have been carried out.
If permission to build is then granted, he said, it will be on the condition that the ancient part of the wall is incorporated into the new development project, which will consist of three towers, with 162 apartments. The license will also stipulate that the public is allowed access to the site, he added.
Ingea maintains the petition is still worthwhile. “Culture must lead to the development of the city: In any other country of the world it is unacceptable just to cut out archaeology.”
“It’s important that we Lebanese know that we have voices, and that we recognize that we cannot allow our history and our identity to disappear in this way.”
Recent months have seen increased activity by heritage campaigners, who claim many historic buildings have been demolished illegally.
Comments on the online petition reflect this sentiment. One person wrote, “I can’t believe Lebanon still does not realize the importance of its cultural heritage. This petition is the proof for me that people out there still believe a change is possible.” While another wrote, “Lebanon needs to start thinking about the future … this [port] would be great for the tourism industry.”