of the National Museum started in 1919 with a small group of ancient artifacts,
which had been collected by Raymond Weill, a French officer stationed in Lebanon.
These objects were displayed in one of the rooms of the German Deaconesses
building in Georges Picot Street in Beirut. This exhibition hall served as
a temporary museum.
A founding committee was created in 1923 with the task of raising funds to build a museum on a land parcel located on the road to Damascus, near the hippodrome. The plans presented by architects Antoine Nahas and Pierre Leprince Ringuet were accepted by the committee which was headed by Bechara el Khoury, then Prime Minister and Minister of Education and Fine Arts of the Lebanese Republic.
Building activities began in 1930 and were completed in 1937. The Museum was inaugurated on May 27, 1942 by Alfred Naccache, then President of the Lebanese Republic. In 1937, Emir Maurice Chehab, Curator of the Beirut Museum, declared that the new building would house all antiquities uncovered on Lebanese territory.
Until 1975, the Museum visitors could admire a large collection of beautiful objects ranging over a very long chronological period, from Prehistory to the 19th c. AD. Within 30 years the Museum's collection had substantially increased by the addition of artifacts found in recent excavations (sarcophagi, mosaics, jewelry, coins, ceramics, woodwork, weapons ).
The National Museum is considered to be one of the most significant Near Eastern museums because of its rich collection. Its importance lies however in the fact that it is part of the Directorate General of Antiquities: excavations undertaken by the latter constantly add new objects to the wealth of the displayed collections.
: The National Museum closed its doors when the Lebanese war broke out.
When the tragic events started in 1975, the situation in the vicinity of the Museum and the Directorate General of Antiquities rapidly and dangerously deteriorated. Both buildings were unfortunately located on the demarcation line, which has divided Beirut into two antagonistic areas for more than seventeen years. The Museum was not only a witness but also a victim of the raging war and the main road next to it came to be ironically called the "Museum Passage" because it was the main communication route between both parts of Beirut during the war.
Due to these events, the authorities decided to close the Museum temporarily in the hope that the situation will rapidly calm down. But their expectations were deceived and the country sank, day after day, in an endless cycle of violence. No one was prepared to face this long war and no one ever imagined that the National Museum would turn into a barrack for armed elements.
The first protection measures inside the Museum were taken while fire-shells and moments of truce alternated. Small finds, the most vulnerable objects of the collection, were removed from the showcases and hidden in storerooms in the basement. The latter was walled up banning any access to the lower floors.
On the ground floor, mosaics, which had been fitted in the pavement, were covered with a layer of concrete. Other large and heavy objects, such as statues and sarcophagi, were protected by sandbags. When the situation reached its worst in 1982, the sandbags were replaced by concrete cases built around a wooden structure surrounding the monument.
cease-fire was declared in 1991, the Museum and the Directorate General of
Antiquities were in a terrible state of destruction. The Museum was like an
open wound flooded with rainwater drifting from the roof and the windows.
The outer façade was completely peppered with shots and shell-holes
while the internal walls were covered with graffiti left by the militias who
used the Museum as a military barrack.
Regarding the Museum collection, the situation was highly critical: the objects were kept in storerooms for more than fifteen years in totally inappropriate conditions. The large stone objects were left in their casings without any ventilation. Since the National Museum was built on the water table, a phenomenon, which caused a dangerous increase in the humidity rate and the rise of the water level inside the storerooms, traces of saltwater corrosion were spotted on the lower edge of the stone monuments.
Several documents (maps, photographs, records) as well as 45 boxes containing archaeological objects were burnt in a shellfire, which devastated the aisle adjacent to the Directorate General of Antiquities. Nothing had also survived from the laboratory equipment.
To make a long story short, everything had to be re-done.
: Restoration work started in 1995 and focused on the building itself (repair
of the structure, lighting, air-conditioning, security and acoustical systems,
elevators, showcases, water-drainage
). Meanwhile, the inventory, recording
and restoration of the objects were taking place.
The rehabilitation of the National Museum was made possible thanks to the joint efforts of the Ministry of Culture, the Directorate General of Antiquities and the National Heritage Foundation.
On November 25, 1997, Elias Hraoui, President of the Lebanese Republic, inaugurated
the Museum which re-opened its doors to hundreds of visitors. But only the
ground floor and parts of the basement were open to the public because the
remaining parts were still under repair (drainage of the water and restoration
of the first floor galleries). This partial re-opening had as its main objective
to recreate a contact between the Lebanese and their Past. Upon the visit,
the public could appreciate the tremendous efforts that had been and still
needed to be done to give back to the Museum its international standing.
In July 1998, the Museum closed its doors again because appropriate conditions
for the display of objects were still lacking. Substantial modifications were
needed to enable the museum, which was built in the 1930's, to meet the needs
and standards of modern museology.
1999: On October 8, 1999, under the patronage of Emile Lahoud, President of the Republic of Lebanon, the Museum opened its doors: the ground and upper floors had been completely transformed. Over 1300 archaeological artifacts are displayed there and they date to periods ranging from Prehistory to Ottoman times.
rehabilitation of the underground galleries will be the last phase of this