MiBACT– U4H task force assessment mission for the Beirut cultural heritage
Following the disastrous explosion that hit the city of Beirut on 4 August 2020, causing more than 200 deaths and immense destruction in the urban, social and cultural fabric of the city, the Institutes in charge of cultural heritage – CH safeguarding have activated a prompt response, also at international level. In this context of international mobilization, the Italian Minister for Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism, Dario Franceschini, proposed to the Lebanese Minister of Culture, Abbas Mortada, the intervention of the Unite4Heritage Task Force, to support the Lebanese authorities in the activities required for safeguarding the cultural heritage affected by the event.
The Plenipotentiary and Diplomatic Advisor Minister Uberto Vanni d’Archirafi has coordinated the organization of the MiBACT Task Force mission, in close cooperation with the Italian Embassy in Lebanon, in the person of Ambassador Nicoletta Bombardiere, with the logistical support of the First Secretary of the Embassy Dr. Emanuele D’Andrassi and the Carabinieri Command – Cultural Heritage Protection Unit. The particular health emergency caused by Sars Cov-2 has stressed the need for specific health protocols both when leaving the country of origin and entering the host country.
On 29th September, MiBACT’s General Secretary, upon proposal by the Contact Point, has activated a first mission with the task of carrying out a survey on both mobile and immovable cultural heritage affected by the explosion, the state of damage and the activities necessary for its safety and subsequent restoration. Therefore, in line with the provisions of the MiBACT-U4H Task Force Operating Regulation, the “Damage Survey” Operating Unit was activated.
The Mission Planning
Since the formalization of Minister Franceschini’s willingness to send the Unite4Heritage Task Force, the Contact Point of the MiBACT-U4H (1), following a first assessment (2), on the cultural heritage potentially affected by the event, namely on the typologies and conservation characteristics established by a preliminary report, has defined the composition of the Task Force for the MiBACT part. This Unit was composed by MiBACT experts, in this case by: an architect specialized in monument restoration, a diagnostician officer, a restorer specialized in stone artifacts and decorated surfaces, a technology officer, a restorer specialized in wooden artifacts and structural wood conservation and an expert in movable property management in emergency, by a restorer specialized in archival material and a photographer (unfortunately the latter two professionals were unable to leave for serious personal reasons). As per the Task Force CC-U4H component (Carabinieri Command- Cultural Heritage Protection Unit) a lieutenant colonel and a marshal were involved.
The Team left Rome on 12 October and came back on 19 October. On the first day, 13 October, after the required checks for COVID-19 prevention, the Team met the General Director of Antiquities of the Ministry of Culture, Sarkis Khoury and soon after the Director of the National Museum, Anne Marie Afeiche that accompanied the Team on an inspection in the Museum. These inspections were carried out on 14, 15, 16 and 17 October 2020 and concerned the districts of Downtown, Sursock, Gemmayzeh, Rmeil and Karantina, severely hit by the impact of the explosion of 4 August 2020. They visited 3 mosques, 4 churches, 1 museum, 12 historical buildings, the National Library and the popular district of Karantina. The team was able to ascertain the importance of the damage that the explosion on 4 August inflicted on the city’s cultural heritage, giving an in-depth description of it in the technical mission report (3) that acknowledges the uniqueness of Libyan cultural heritage, its building construction traditions as well as the permanence of types and decorative features that are very important for Beirut’s identity.
At the time of the inspection, the removal of the rubble, promptly activated, was almost complete, as was the start of numerous recovery operations, in some cases already in advanced progress. Many safety activities on public buildings have been financed directly by UNESCO and, in some cases, by various NGOs. Among the critical issues that emerged during the inspections was the need for roofs, also temporary, to protect the buildings from the imminent heavy rains expected in the fall season. The adequate management of rubble, especially the remains of damaged decorations, is also a criticality reported by the competent local authorities.
The Future Developments of the Mission
For the time being, in consideration of the Lebanese needs for the safeguard of Beirut’s cultural heritage, and of the technical/scientific capabilities of our Ministry, some important possibilities for the development of this first reconnaissance mission are being assessed with all the authorities at various levels involved, hoping that they will soon be put in place.