A crime was committed in Beirut recently, mind you this is not the first and it won’t be the last, when bulldozers destroyed one of the oldest ports in the country to make room for a multi million dollar complex named after the Roman goddess of love. Between greed, ignorance and politics, everything is possible including the bulldozing of ancient ruins to build a commercial tower. Worse than the bulldozing, is the order to bulldoze and worse than all that is the actual belief that there is nothing there when actual experts vowed there is something intriguing that deserves to be preserved and studied further.
The complex could have gone one as planned and the small section could’ve been preserved. It could’ve made the Venus Towers even more appealing and more expensive for sure having as a base some genuine antiquities that could date back to the third century before Christ.
In Lebanon where ministers are not always chosen based on qualifications but on religious quotas and political affiliations instead, a culture minister can be a developer for all we know, or an entrepreneur just as a health minister does not have to have anything to do with health. With time, Lebanon’s ministries have become like awards or decorations. (Mainly) men wear their government portfolios as a badge of prestige or honor. Rarely does anything of importance gets achieved by a minister and the successive governments have been paralyzed by political disagreements to the point where it’s become the norm that nothing gets done. It is no surprise to see grown men bicker like small children over significant ministries such as defense and interior. It’s usually because the group with the upper hand has a candidate to decorate with the position not necessarily the right (wo)man for the job.
Back to Beirut and the goddess of love that will soon stand on the ancient ruins that should have been preserved and cherished, not destroyed mercilessly. Just like everything else in a country plagued with corruption, the archaeological site and its ruins became a subject of controversy. Is it or is it not Phoenician? Does it or does it not date back to the 3d century before Christ? Should the court order to halt destruction of said ruins be upheld? Should the word of the current culture minister overrule the court and act as if it’s perfectly fine to erect a modern day “love goddess” in the otherwise priceless heritage?
Whether the ruins are Phoenicians or not is not of importance to those who really care about preserving a culture and respecting the history and heritage of who we are as people and where we come from in order to chart where we want to go.
Looking at other nations with no history to boast of, they build monuments and create a heritage even if modern. Nations feel the necessity to belong to a lineage and have a track in history.
It saddens anyone with a sense of heritage and even a basic appreciation of archaeology to see people act like nothing is sacred anymore.
Beirut was destroyed by natural disasters many times and rebuilt. If Mother Nature was giving the people of the land a message, it’s a message of appreciation and respect for what one has. Many Lebanese do not waste time or energy ignoring that message as well as the history, heritage and the many others who really care.
If this latest row is not handled right, and the destruction of irreplaceable ruins is not treated as a crime with all involved brought to justice in one way or another, then no other ruins are safe of similar crimes in the future. If this is how Ministers of culture will deal with archaeological issues from now on, perhaps it is time that Lebanon’s national antiquities should cease to be under the guardianship of the government. They certainly deserve better.