Beirut Port Project - HFF Lebanon

Map of Beirut displaying extent of blast impact in Lebanon

Beirut is one of Lebanon’s most extensively excavated, surveyed, and published coastal archaeological sites. The city has been continuously inhabited for more than 10,000 years, with largely uninterrupted stratigraphic sequences across much of the rocky headland and its surrounding environs. This can be largely attributed to its strategic geographic location, which is characterised by a wide coastal plain, several effective natural bays and anchorages on the northern coast, and access to fresh water from the Beirut River.

The horrific explosion at the port city on August 4th, 2020 left over 200 dead, 6500 injured, and displaced over 300,000 people after catastrophic damage to residential and commercial structures up to 20 km from the point of detonation. The blast caused irreparable damage not only to the modern city and its inhabitants, but also struck at the heart of Lebanese cultural heritage. The ancient maritime landscape, historic coastal buildings and structures, and archaeological features in and around the port all sustained significant harm and are in dire need of restoration, preservation, and proper management.

For this reason, the Honor Frost Foundation envisioned the Beirut Port Project (BPP) to assist current and future archaeological teams working in the city. In support of the Directorate General of Antiquities of Lebanon (DGA), the BPP aims to compile a thorough overview of previous archaeological, historical, and geomorphological investigations of the historic port site of Beirut. This involves a review of all published material, as well as a consideration of unpublished grey reports, and their incorporation into a unified and transposable GIS. Through a collaboration with the DGA and other associated parties, including the Maritime Endangered Archaeology in the Middle East and North Africa Project (MarEA) and the Endangered Archaeology in the Middle East and North Africa Project (EAMENA), this review makes possible an analysis of the port city encompassing the wider maritime cultural landscape.

The maritime landscape of Beirut; point of detonation of the August 4 explosion outlined in red (after Raad 2020: Fig. 5.1)

Specifically, the primary research objective of the BPP is to provide a holistic characterisation of the maritime cultural landscape of Beirut that could potentially serve as a working template for all organisations involved in salvage operations and cultural heritage management projects, and provide the DGA with a GIS of all previous work conducted in Beirut. Additionally, the BPP is being conducted in affiliation with EAMENA and MarEA to work towards a unified and relatable GIS across multiple projects. This endeavour represents one part of a larger, multi-disciplinary effort by a number of organizations in collaboration with the DGA to record, conserve, and maintain the maritime cultural heritage of Beirut.

One of these endeavours includes the Beirut Through Time project (BTT), conducted by The EAMENA team, along with the DGA, which is focused on rapidly documenting the worst-affected historic neighbourhoods of Beirut after the tragic blast. An emergency condition assessment was carried out on each historic building to ascertain their condition before and after the blast. The team recorded nearly 200 houses in the Saifeh, Remeil and Medawar quarters of Beirut, concentrating mainly on the area between Charles Helou Avenue and Charles Malek Street. Now that the fieldwork has been completed, and the early results have been entered into the Lebanon EAMENA database. Enhancing these records and adding further relevant data are the obvious next steps for BPP. It is envisaged that BPP and BTT will work in collaboration to build a comprehensive dataset for the city of Beirut.

DGA staff recording damaged buildings on Gouraud Street, Medawar (after Deadman and Neogi 2020; photo courtesy of DGA)

The BPP team is composed of Dr Naseem Raad (Honor Frost Foundation Lebanon team member and Academic Coordinator of the Marine Sciences and Culture programme at the American University of Beirut) and Dr Sayantani Neogi (Honor Frost Foundation Consultant and researcher for the EAMENA project at Durham University). This project strives to build upon the doctoral research of Raad (2020: Chapter 5), the Desk-Based Assessment of maritime archaeological sites on the Lebanese coast conducted by Dr Lucy Semaan (2015), and previous work conducted by the DGA and EAMANA in BTT.

References

Deadman, W. and Neogi, S. 2020. The DGA-EAMENA ‘Beirut Explosion Heritage Buildings Survey’: EAMENA’s Response to the Post-disaster Cultural Emergency in Lebanon. EAMENA blog post. Available online from: https://eamena.org/article/dga-eamena-beirut-explosion-heritage-buildings-survey-eamenas-response-post-disaster

Raad, N. 2020. Roman Beirut: An Analysis of Economic Systems and Maritime Commercial Networks. PhD Thesis, University of Southampton.

Semaan, L. 2015. Desk Based Assessment of Maritime Archaeology in Lebanon. Honor Frost Foundation.

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