Daily power outages put Lebanon's ancient crafts in culture news

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Daily power outages put Lebanon's ancient crafts in culture news

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Beirut, Lebanon – The severe power shortage plaguing Lebanon has not only hit homes and private establishments, it has also affected major cultural centers, putting valuable exhibits at risk.

The National Museum of Beirut suffered an even worse-than-normal blackout for two weeks in August, with state-supplied electricity available for only one to two hours a day and no money to buy fuel for generators. did.

A video shot by tourist Mariela Rubio, which shows visitors looking at the museum’s archaeological wonders through a cell phone flashlight, went viral on social media.

“The experience was paradoxical, because of course it was sad to see the museum go completely without power. It was the perfect metaphor for the whole country. Magically, in some kind of twisted way,” Rubio told Al Jazeera.

“They didn’t charge us or any of our visitors because there was no lighting,” she said. It has given me the opportunity to fully understand what the situation is like.”

The Ministry of Culture said it had resolved the immediate situation by providing the museum with funds to purchase essential generator fuel to protect exhibits requiring climate control.

But while the situation may be stable for now, when funding runs out, new plans will be needed to ensure the museum’s survival.

Business hours are limited to reduce fuel consumption.

Like most companies and institutions in Lebanon, the museum faces challenges due to the economic meltdown that began in 2019. Power outages are now occurring daily in Lebanon, and the state power provides him with only one hour a day in most areas.

“We have to keep fighting because we had 150 to 250 people coming every day, even though there was no electricity,” museum director Anne-Marie Afeish told Al Jazeera.

“We are dealing with problems like everyone else. [salaries of the] We have issues with security guards, employees, and paying for maintenance and cleaning, but we are still standing,” she added.

“Like any country, you never know what’s going to happen tomorrow.”

“This is our treasure, our heritage.”

Opened in 1942, Lebanon’s premier archaeological museum now houses about 1,300 artifacts from a collection of 100,000 objects ranging from prehistoric times to Roman, Phoenician, Byzantine and Mamluk times.

Air conditioning is not an issue for stone objects in museums.

But for frescoes, mummies, textiles, metals, or organic crafts such as Bronze Age weapons or Roman leather armor, temperature and humidity control, or power, is essential.

Afeiche said the museum closely monitors the delicate objects for damage or alterations.

“These collections cannot be replaced. They are our treasure, our heritage, and must be managed in the best possible way.”

She said it is often the fluctuations between hot and cold, wet and dry caused by blackouts that pose the greatest danger.

“It was only two weeks in a very bad power situation, so really we dodged a bullet. Things are better now.”

The International Alliance for the Preservation of Heritage in Conflict Areas (ALIPH) has been working with museums since the 2020 Beirut port explosion to restore cultural and We have pledged $5 million to support the monument.

The museum’s generator was damaged in the blast and has not yet been fully repaired. Lebanon’s power situation has worsened since the port explosion amid a plummeting currency and soaring fuel prices.

In November 2021, ALIPH provided $15,000 for the purchase of fuel to alleviate the impending power problem.

When those funds ran out and the museum again lost access to normal electricity, ALIPH reassessed the situation and approved a $130,000 grant for solar installation in February 2022. . Antiques (DGA).

ALIPH Project Manager David Sassine told Al Jazeera:

“Most favorable [scenario] It’s about keeping any object in a very stable state. [otherwise] Aging of these elements is greatly catalyzed.

“Instead of restoring generators when we are not sure there will be sufficient fuel supplies, we have opted for a more sustainable approach focused on renewable energy to ensure the museum is autonomous with respect to electricity supply. did.”

Despite the urgency of the project, the solar panels cannot be installed until the Council of Ministers has formally approved the grant and all technical aspects have been planned.

Sasin believes the approval could be signed soon and the panel could be in place by December, but the timeline ultimately depends on the Lebanese government’s convenience.

ALIPH has now approved another grant of $15,000 for fuel to keep the generator running until the solar system is installed.

Meanwhile, the DGA and the Ministry of Finance decided in September to raise admission fees for all government-controlled museums and archaeological sites to generate more income for maintenance and other costs.

Museums have to rely on dollars or locals with access to tourists and foreigners to survive, especially with the influx of visitors to Lebanon in recent months.

Afeiche said the museum relies primarily on income from the museum shop and other facilities for most maintenance and cleaning costs.

“The National Heritage Foundation has expanded the museum [in 2020]which will eventually be launched in the cafeteria,” she added.

“It’s always [shop]restaurants and cafeterias that help maintain the museum [itself]Ticket sales are rarely the main source of income. ”

The extension, whose launch was delayed due to the pandemic, does not yet have an official launch date. Afeiche is optimistic that the addition of a café and solar power facility will help the National Museum to thrive again and protect Lebanon’s historical treasures.

The museum hopes to make the most of this year’s increase in tourism as COVID restrictions are eased around the world and the Lebanese pound has been devalued, including by many foreigners.

“We have visited many Lebanese and I am always very proud because these Lebanese often live abroad and when they come back to see their families and friends Because it feels like coming to the National Museum with a friend or a friend,” with them,” Afeish said.

“It’s very important to bring back the sense of national pride and heritage that they have.”