On April 29th, 2021, His Excellency Mr. Andreas Kindl, German Ambassador to Lebanon, visited four damaged historic buildings that were recently stabilized and sheltered by UNESCO in Beirut, along with His Excellency Judge Marwan Abboud, Governor of Beirut, Dr.Sarkis Khoury, Director General of Antiquities – Lebanese Ministry of Culture, and Ms. Costanza Farina, Director of the UNESCO office in Beirut.
UNESCO architects and staff explained the technical work that has been undertaken in the project, which was financed by the German Federal Foreign Office with a contribution of 500,000 €, and was executed by UNESCO as part of its flagship initiative LiBeirut. The project includes, in total, 12 buildings with historical and heritage value, in the urban districts of Rmeil, Medawar and Saifi. Between December 2020 and March 2021, 11 of them have been stabilized, sheltered and propped in an urgent intervention by UNESCO and in close coordination with the Directorate General of Antiquities (DGA) of Lebanon. The buildings were severely damaged and at a high risk of collapse, following the devastating explosions on August 4. As most of them are privately owned, there was also a significant risk of gentrification, i.e. having these buildings demolished and replaced with a new architecture that would have changed the historical and cultural identity of the capital.
“The Beirut blast has done tremendous damage to the heart of the city, said Ambassador Kindl. I am glad to see the results achieved by UNESCO in stabilizing and sheltering damaged historic buildings, and Germany has contributed 500.000 € to this effort”. “This is not only an element of the Foreign Office’s active policy to support the preservation of cultural and architectural heritage all over the world; it is also an element of our policy to strengthen multilateralism”, he added, pointing out the fact that Germany is the third largest contributor to UNESCO. Mr. Kindl also highlighted the fact that Germany is currently participating in the Lebanon Financing Facility(LFF), and that it will support the efforts of preserving cultural heritage as part of it. The LFF is set up to provide a pooled financing mechanism for the Lebanon Reform, Recovery and Reconstruction Framework (the 3RF), jointly launched by the EU, the World Bankand the UN.
As for Judge Marwan Abboud, Governor of Beirut, he noticed the difference between the situation of these buildings during the first days that followed the explosions, and their situation today, emphasizing “the greatness of the work that was done with the support of international organizations, associations, the international community and the municipality of Beirut, which contributed to the safeguarding of the cultural heritage by facilitating the interventions and giving the necessary permits”. He added: “Since day 1, we were next to the people of Beirut in this disaster-stricken area, and all efforts combined have made possible today the revival of these neighborhoods and streets, so that they return better than they werebefore the blasts. When these buildings were damaged by the explosions of the port, real estate developers rushed here in an attempt to exploit the situation, demolish heritage buildings and establish modern constructions, but the supreme national interest ruled to preserve the archaeological character of the area and its social fabric, mainly by taking appropriate legal measures. No historical or heritage building has been demolished, and we will not allow that in Beirut and in this particular area”.
Thanking Germany, UNESCO and all “the partners who have been with us since the port explosions”, Dr. Sarkis Khoury underlined from his side the fact that “the first phase of the interventions is now being completed with the stabilization, propping and sheltering of the damaged heritage buildings, but much remains to be done”. “The DGA and the Ministry of Culture have launched a campaign for the renovation works that should follow next and for which funds have not been secured yet”, he concluded.
On her part, Ms. Costanza Farina asserted that “the visit to the stabilized buildings reveal the concrete achievements of the LiBeirutinitiative, which was launched by the UNESCO Director General Audrey Azoulay during her visit to Beirut in late August 2020, to mobilize partnerships and resources in support of the reconstructionof the city”. “With the generous funding from Germany, the first UNESCO Member State to respond to the call and to invest in cultural heritage interventions within the LiBeirut initiative, UNESCO has been able to save 12 historical buildings that otherwise would have collapsed. These emergency interventions have also created much needed jobs for architects, contractors, workers and are all part of a larger UNESCO program that supports the revitalization of heritage, cultural and artistic life in Beirut. These results are a proof that in close collaboration with the Directorate General of Antiquities and the support of the Governor of Beirut, UNESCO has created value and delivered on its promises”. “This is not the end but just the beginning of a joint path, where these and other historical buildings will be fully renovated. Culture, heritage and art are at the heart of Beirut’s identity and we are collectively working to see Beirut shine again”, she said.