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Sunday, February 23, 2020

Beirut Down Town (4) | The Archeological Discovery at a Glance


Please note, this article is just informative; the information stated below was collected at the beginning of the project execution and many of its components were modified, canceled, or outdated…

The target of this post is to highlight this big project that took place in my city Beirut, and still not reach its end yet. Since its inauguration around the year 1994, this project keeps on attracting me with fascination...

The success of this project prompted many other cities and countries to follow its suit...
  • This study is divided into four parts; it is advised to read it in its sequel order to avoid any misunderstanding of the ideas contained within the articles.

Part Four | The Archeological Discovery at a Glance

Abou Bakr (Dabbagha) Mosque, (Photo Source:eng.wikimapia.org)
At a glance, the Beirut Central District was home to a number of civilizations over thousands of years and a wealth of archeological monuments and relics are embedded in its soil.
One of the concerns of the Development and reconstruction of the BCD is to bring to light this archeological wealth so that the rich heritage of the city center is integrated into the reconstruction process.

Hundreds of archeologists and their assistants did participate in one of the world's largest and most exciting urban archeological excavations, under the auspices of the General Directorate of Antiquities and with the technical assistance of Unesco.

The first phase of excavations began in the fall of 1993 and consisted of area surveys and open-site excavations.

The second phase started in the final quarter of 1994, in the region between Martyrs and Nejmeh Squares.
The third phase began in June 1994 in the Souks area with teams from the DGA, the 
AUB, the Lebanese University, and British, Dutch, and 
French archeologists...
Al-Omari Mosque, Photo Source: Beirut.com

Today we will continue our discussion started in the previous post about the discoveries fou
nd in the main archeological sites in Beirut Down Town. 

We did already have a glance about the site adjoining the Ottoman Serail hill and the site in the area under the old Souks, which is still kept beneath the newly built zone known as The Beirut Souks.

In this section, we will be discussing the other two sites of The Foch-Allenby and The Mohamed Al-Amin Mosque with the St. George Cathedral which includes the most fabulous and magnificent ruins ever.

To review the two previous sections, please refer to the previous post untitled:
Amir Assaf Mosque, Image Source: Beirut.com

In the third place then, came the Foch-Allenby landscaped zone.

Section Three- The Foch-Allenby landscaped zone that has pedestrian internal streets. Its architecture reflects an early 20th-century European eclectic style.

The frontages exhibit a rich variety of details and stone ornamentation: arches, cornices, portals, friezes, and inscriptions.

On Foch Street is Abou Bakr (Dabbagha) Mosque.

On Weygand Street are the historic Al Omari and Amir Assaf Mosques and the Municipality of Beirut building.

A landscaped open space forms a link between these historical monuments.

Section four- Finally we get to the fourth area; which is the site that I choose for my final project.

It is worth mentioning that this site is the one that have-it-all or at least a generous part of it.
(Image: Municipality of Beirut, Source: Beirut.com)

The reason why is of course because the discoveries show that all the civilizations had left something in there as per the list below:
  • From Canaanite (the Bronze Age 3000- 1200 BC)
  • Phoenician (Iron Age 1200- 550 BC)
  • Persian or Late Phoenician (550- 333 BC)
  • Hellenistic (333- 64 BC)
  • Roman (64 BC- 395 AC)
  • Byzantine (395- 632 AC)
  • Umayyad (661- 750)
  • Abbasid (750- 1110)
  • Crusaders (1098- 1291)
  • Mamluks (1291- 1516)
  • Ottoman (1516- 1918)
  • Till the French Mandate (1920- 1943)
Of course, the other sites also contained a lot of those remainings but the principal and the most important discovery here was the Cardo Maximus; and this is a notification.

In Roman city planning there was a standard by which all roads were constructed. The Decumanus was an East-West oriented road, while the Cardo was the main North-South oriented street.

All Ancient Roman cities, castra, or Colonia followed this design.
The main Decumanus was the Decumanus Maximus, which normally connected the Porta Praetoria (in a military camp, closest to the enemy) to the Porta Decumana (away from the enemy).
The Cardo was integral for it was lined with shops and vendors, serving as a hub of economic life. The main cardo was called Cardo Maximus.

The Old Roman Urbanism

The following photo may clarify the conception:

In the groma, the Decumanus Maximus crosses the perpendicular Cardo Maximus, the usual main street. The Cardo was the axis of the city, derived from the same root as the cardinal.

Due to varying geography, in some cities, the Decumanus is the main street and the Cardo is secondary, but in general, the Cardo Maximus served as the primary road.

The Forum was normally located at the intersection of the Decumanus and the Cardo.

The name Decumanus comes from the fact that the Via Decumana or Decimana (the 10th) separated the 10th Cohort from the 9th in the Legionary encampment, in the same way as the Via Quintana separated the 5th Cohort from the 6th.

In Beirut, Lebanon

The Cardo Maximus was the main north-south street of Roman Berytus.

A section of the street – 100 meters long or so - was discovered during excavation works, flanked by two rows of limestone pedestals.

These pedestals once carried 6-meter-high columns supporting roofed colonnades on either side of the street.

A stairway in the eastern colonnade gave access to a large building complex and connected the Forum to another complex that extended from the present Al-Azariyeh building to Riad Al Solh Square as shown in the below figures taken on site:
Exclusive photo (1) showing the Cardo Maximus in the old Beirut

Archaeological excavations uncovered two successive levels of the street, the oldest dating to the 2nd century CE.
The later, wider street was laid out during the 4th century A.D.

The floors of the colonnades on both levels of the Cardo Maximus were embellished with mosaic pavements.

These were covered, in the 6th-century CE., with a thin coat of white lime plaster. Fragments of the floors remained in use until the 19th century.
Roman columns were re-used in the foundations of later buildings constructed within the pavement of the Cardo, reducing the main street of Roman Berytus into a small alley.[1]

[1] Saghieh-Beydoun, Muntaha, ‘Allam, Mahmoud, ‘Ala’Eddine, Abdallah and Abulhosn, Sana (1998-1999) “The Monumental Street ‘Cardo Maximus’ and the Replanning of Roman Berytus”, Bulletin d’Archéologie et d’Architecture Libanaises 3:95-126.

Exclusive photo (2) showing clearly the Cardo Maximus in old Beirut

The Master Plan has allocated space for an open archeological area between Martyr's square and Nijmeh square, the Maronite St. Georges Church to the South, and the Omari mosque to the north. 

 A vast amount of riches dating back from the Bronze Age have been discovered, underlying the importance of Beirut throughout the ages.

In addition to the large variety of finds which could be left in place and incorporated into a possible archeological park, a number of discoveries will be integrated into the architecture of new buildings or placed on display in public gardens or the National Museum, enriching our future city with a wealth of relics and information from the past.

Today, and after years of the discovery, it's faithful to say that the site still well-protected against the cement invasion, that hits all the front side of the site, in parallel to the martyr's square.

The public can nowadays benefit from the view as it is since the old ages, and will stay in the present and will hopefully in the future...

Those beautiful pictures show the site in its actual glory:
Today, different views of the Archeological Open Site,.Image Source: Solidere.com

In addition, the site also contains a lot of pilar-bases which is supposed to have been the basement of an old Roman House or Domus and the what-it-looks-like the baseline of some shops along the Cardo Maximus Roman road as shown in the next exclusive pictures:
Roman Houses Basements on the left, and baseline of shops on the right (Exclusive photos)

Exclusive photo (3): General View of the site in his primitive state

A group of students in visit to the site: A rich and great cultural inheritance for the next generation to preserve


So in summary, we have four main open spaces reserved for the in-place-display or if we can say open-museums in a real-size museum.


References and Images:

  • SOLIDERE- Brochure "The Paths of History" issued in collaboration with The Ministry of Culture and Higher Education, The General Directorate of Antiquities- 1995
  • Other pictures were taken on-site; I was preparing my report for my final project so I was there. And I was proud to be from the very first persons who did assist somehow in those renovations.

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