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On August 4, the explosions in Beirut caused hundreds of deaths, thousands of injured and damages for $4.6 billion to the Harbor district and to the neighborhoods.

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Devastating wounds were inflicted upon the city's cultural heritage, several Beirut's oldest neighborhoods were destroyed and different museums, art galleries and religious sites were severely damaged. For this reason, UNESCO has taken the lead to coordinate the restoration and reconstruction of cultural sites. Among the partners of this recovery project, there are the International Alliance for the Protection of Heritage in Conflict Zones, the Arab Regional Center for World Heritage, Blue Shield, the International Center for the Study of Conservation and Restoration of Cultural Property and the International Council of Museums.

A first esteem of the damage caused by the gigantic explosions was made by Sarkis Khoury, General Director of Antiquities at the Lebanese Ministry of Culture. He noted that at least 8,000 buildings were affected, many of which are concentrated in the old districts of Gemayzé and Mar-Mikhael. About 650 are historic buildings, 60 of which are in danger of collapse. 

 

Beirut National Museum before the explosion. Courtesy Lebanon DGA.

 

Among these damaged buildings, there is the National Museum. The explosion, whose causes have not yet been fully clarified, has in fact torn apart almost all the doors and windows of the building, as well as damaged the electrical and the alarm and video surveillance systems. Currently, the Museum is constantly monitored by the police to prevent theft or vandalism, but this can only be a temporary solution. Therefore, within the recovery project led by UNESCO, ALIPH (International Alliance for the Protection of Heritage in Conflict Areas) and the Musée du Louvre have joined forces to deal with the emergency, providing financial and professional help to the museum in Beirut. In the days immediately following the disaster, the General Directorate of Antiquities of Lebanon had estimated a damage for about one million dollars. Whenever the ongoing investigation finds out (if ever it succeeds) whether it was an accident or an act of war, the insurance companies or the State will compensate at least part of the damages. In the meantime, however, ALIPH has made available $200,000 for the most urgent repairs, and the Louvre has sent two teams of experts to direct the work: one from the Department of Antiquities of the Near East and one from the Department of Architectural Heritage and Gardens.

 

Cover image: Beirut, An aerial view of the destroyed port after two massive Aug. 4 explosions in Beirut, Aug. 5, 2020. Photo/Hussein Malla

Written by Giulia Cami

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