As part of an ambitious reconstruction plan, the ruins created by years of civil war are being swept away to make way for a new Beirut. However, while plans to establish a future direction for the city were being made, little thought was given to conserving its rich archaeological past, as Kirk Albrecht discovered.
For more than ten years, most of central Beirut the business and financial district, the traditional souk, and the home of many government buildings - has lain in ruins, a savage testimony to the long years of civil war which crippled the city, once known as the pearl of the Middle East. Once redevelopment work began in earnest, a number of interesting discoveries were to be expected, the odd trinket here or there, testimony to the thriving commercial life which existed in the exotic entrepot for generations. However, with reconstruction now in full swing, archaeologists are unearthing finds far more interesting than mere trinkets. Beneath the rubble, the ruins of an ancient city are emerging. This is old Beirut, dating back more than 2,000 years to the 2nd century BC.
Although some of these discoveries, uncovered over the last year, may soon be swept beneath the tarmac highways and sparkling highrise towers of the new Beirut, thanks to the excavations, ancient Beirut has been catalogued and much of it will now be preserved for generations to come.
Teams of excavators are employed throughout the city, while scores of day labourers rush around with wheelbarrows full of dirt and rocks, desperate to complete their work as the deadline draws near. While most of the work has focused on the Beirut Central District (BCD), where the Lebanese Company for the Development and Reconstruction of Beirut Central District - Solidere - is plowing ahead with the first phase of rebuilding in the city, scattered teams are trying to discover what wonders may lie beneath the soil, before reconstruction cover it all forever.
The finds have been fascinating. Crews have dug down to the Hellenistic period, some two centuries before the modern era. Stretching before them is a Greek city plan of the area we now know as Beirut. What is even more interesting, says Helga Seeden, professor of archaeology at American University of Beirut (AUB), and co-director of excavations of the souk area, is the fact that the original plan is still there. "The Romans respected the plan used by the Greeks," she says. "Contrary to the normal practice of razing the city to...