Under Li Beirut, UNESCO gathers experts at AUB to identify and protect modern cultural heritage after the blasts

October 8, 2021 – Within the framework of the UNESCO study “Identifying Cultural Heritage Attributes in Beirut Blast Damaged Areas”, the Beirut Urban Lab at AUB organized a workshop titled “Framework and criteria for the identification of Modern heritage”. The workshop engaged local and international experts who discussed through their findings the proposed definition and criteria for the identification of Modern urban heritage in the Lebanese capital.

The UNESCO study aims to identify and map cultural heritage in the blast-impacted area of Beirut on August 4, 2020, in order to set an action plan for their rehabilitation, protection and sustainable management, as part of UNESCO’s flagship initiative Li Beirut. What is Modern heritage in the Beiruti context? How can we identify its key attributes in the selected historic quarters of Beirut most impacted by the blast? These are few of the questions that the study will answer, knowing that modern built and landscape heritage were often marginalized by the law, in the absence of clear, distinctive attributes.

In her opening remarks, Costanza Farina, Director of UNESCO Beirut Office, highlighted the importance of Article 7 of Law 194, issued by the Lebanese government on October 2020, to develop the necessary strategies and policies towards ensuring the preservation and protection of the urban heritage in the blast-devastated areas. “This law gives the Lebanese Directorate General of Antiquities a limited period for action. In response, an action plan is needed to support the DGA in strategic decision-making and in managing interventions”, she affirmed.

“Through Li Beirut initiative, we have been advocating for a people-centered urban recovery through culture, heritage and education, she added. UNESCO projects are tailored towards the Historic Urban Landscape approach, known as the HUL approach. UNESCO will also launch a new project to strengthen legal measures in order to protect Lebanon’s built heritage and urban fabric. In close coordination with the DGA, the third strategic contribution of UNESCO has been to document Beirut’s cultural and architectural heritage affected by the blast, facilitating the creation of a geo-referenced 3D model of three historic areas of Beirut:  Gemmayzeh, Mar Mikhail, and Karantina. This new tool shall guide the rehabilitation of urban cultural spaces and other selected historical landmark buildings”.

From his side, Dr. Sarkis Khoury, Director General of Antiquities, recalled the path adopted by the DGA to protect cultural heritage in Beirut, and assured that the institution gives a special attention to modern urban heritage. “We need to agree on a solid technical file to present to the Lebanese parliament; it’s a long path”, he assured. 

The explosion of the Port of Beirut has sounded the alarm of an irreversible loss of lives and properties including the urban heritage of the surrounding neighborhoods, a cultural landscape that dates back to the second half of the 19th century, when Beirut started its expansion outside the walls. Predatory real-estate pressure and insufficient protection laws already threatened these neighborhoods long before the blasts.

Li Beirut is an international flagship initiative launched from Beirut by the Director-General of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay, in the aftermath of the explosions, on August 27, 2020, to support the rehabilitation of schools, historic heritage buildings, museums, galleries and the creative industry, all of which suffered significant damage in the deadly explosions.

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