The Beirut port explosion was not the first blow that the “Sursock Museum” received, as it went through difficult previous stages that necessitated intermittent work in it, especially during the civil war in 1975 and after that, also in 2008, a huge seven-year workshop was launched to restore this edifice. The ancient, which is associated with the memory of Beirut, but, unfortunately, the port explosion came eight years after its reopening, causing severe damage to it, and the worst thing is that the destruction affected not only the external facades and the building, but also the museum’s priceless holdings, as for today, we are witnessing a new birth of one of the most prominent Beirut landmarks that reflect its civilized and cultural face, and life has returned throughout it after nearly three years of restoration work, in conditions not without challenges. It is a return that lovers of arts and culture have been anticipating in the past period, and the museum with all its valuable art collections and its ancient building that combines Italian and Ottoman features.
in ancient history
Nicolas Ibrahim Sursock built the palace in 1912 in the “Sarasakah neighborhood” in Beirut, which is famous for its palaces and luxurious buildings. His love for the arts prompted him to recommend transferring his ownership to the city of Beirut after his death, provided that it turns into a museum to spread culture and support Lebanese artists and promote their work. The ownership of the palace was transferred. According to the will of its owner to the Beirut Municipality in 1952, it did not turn into a museum in the first stage, but rather into an official guesthouse to receive kings and heads of state during the era of President Camille Chamoun. It returned and turned into a museum in 1961 with the opening of the “Autumn Exhibition”, which became It is an annual tradition, and one of the most prominent activities that the museum is famous for is its dissemination of culture and art. At the same time, the museum built its own collections and held local and international exhibitions, until it closed in 2008 temporarily for its renovation and expansion, so its area increased more than five times until it reached 5000 square meters. A square with five galleries. Four floors were added below the existing building without affecting its basic design. A temporary exhibition hall, lecture hall, permanent collections hall, library, shop and restaurant were added.
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The five permanent groups are:
– The eastern group, which includes antiques of ancient Islamic art, Ottoman art, and Byzantine icons
The Fouad Debbas Collection, which contains more than 30,000 photographs dating back to between 1830 and 1960.
The Nicolas Sursock Collection, which includes a collection of furnishings, accessories, and works of art for the owner of the museum and his office. The Arab salon on the first floor may be one of the most attractive landmarks in the museum because of its ancient and luxurious character. It was brought from Damascus in the 1920s, and it testifies to the level of art. Craftsmanship in that era, as it is distinguished by its wooden design decorated with ornaments that cover the walls and ceilings.
The Modern and Contemporary Art Group, which presents works by artists from Lebanon and the world.-
In addition to it, the museum’s own collections, including the Japanese fossil printing works that the Japanese embassy donated to the museum when it held an exhibition in which this art was presented.-
On a tour of the museum, it becomes clear directly that it has what makes it different from the rest of the museums, because it combines in one place between antiquity and history on the one hand, and contemporary art with all its creativity on the other hand, and between the Lebanese and the international, as if it was a picture of the city of Beirut with all that is in it. of variety.
On the fateful day that was engraved forever in the memory of the Lebanese, the Beirut port explosion led to an almost complete change in the features of the areas surrounding the port. As for the museum, which is one of the most important historical cultural monuments in the city, rich in its collections of ancient and contemporary artworks and its interactive activities and exhibitions, the damage was prolonged. From 50 to 70 percent of it, the stained glass windows that characterize its entire building fell, and the Arab salon, ceilings, and building were destroyed, and more. The museum’s holdings of paintings and sculptures were severely damaged, as more than 57 paintings and sculptures were damaged, according to what Karina El Helou, the museum’s director, explains to “ Arabic Independent. And had it not been for funding and support from external donors, this ancient edifice would not have been able to open its doors to its visitors again, in the absence of any financial support from the Ministry of Culture and the Lebanese state due to the lack of capabilities. “France and Italy were the two main funding parties to restore life to the museum and rehabilitate it to receive visitors from Art lovers again, for their keenness on the cultural face of Lebanon, and the main support was from the Italian Development Agency, the French Ministry of Culture, the International Alliance for the Protection of Heritage in Conflict Areas (ALIPH), and the “UNESCO” organization within the framework of the “Beirut” initiative, which gave it priority for its prominent role in the history of Beirut and its importance Architectural and cultural as a museum, its construction dates back to 1860, in front of the stained glass windows, which were provided free of charge by one of the donors.
Because the museum had reopened its doors only five years ago after its restoration and expansion campaign, it restored its basic architecture without any significant changes except for some improvements required by the current stage and some simple additions, and today we find in one of its corners a beautiful swing that is a souvenir from the family of the Australian child Isaac The youngest victim of the port explosion, who was a fan of the museum, Gaia Foundation also presented a souvenir in the form of a bench she designed.
In fact, the museum has long stories with wars and restoration processes, as it was a witness to the history of Lebanon, which has known many and repeated wars, and has known only short periods of peace and tranquility. As if it was a picture of the city of Beirut, which rose repeatedly and came back to life, but according to Al-Hilu, the explosion of the Beirut port may be the most difficult experience that the museum went through, so the destruction differed this time from the previous damage it suffered as a result of wars due to shells or shrapnel, which are damages that it is accustomed to. Engineers specialized in the restoration of monuments, but this time, the restoration was different and posed a difficult challenge and required a long time.
Restoring paintings and sculptures requires high skill and craftsmanship by specialists in this field, and it is not considered a common specialty in the country. Therefore, it was necessary to resort to parties outside Lebanon to participate in the restoration process, including a painting by the Dutch-French artist Kees Van Dongen from 1939 , So the “Pompidou Center” in France took care of its restoration and displayed it until the reopening, and also, the painting of the Lebanese artist Paul Guiragossian from 1970, in which he left traces of the damage resulting from the explosion deliberately as a matter of memory, and he worked on restoring these artworks for three years. Lebanese and French specialists.
With the completion of the museum restoration work, the road seems arduous for its curators to continue in light of the difficult circumstances the country is going through. Therefore, as in museums around the world, funding programs are being worked on by expatriates, international destinations, friends of the museum, and partnerships with international institutions are being established. Note that the museum does not impose an entrance fee, based on the will of its owner, to remain open to all without exception.