Archive for Thursday, October 5, 2006

Mideast war damages heritage sites

October 5, 2006

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— Cleanup is set to begin within days at the first of three ancient World Heritage sites damaged in the summer's Hezbollah-Israel war - a crumbling old castle rising from the Mediterranean whose foundation stones are now coated with oil sludge.

Tens of thousands of dollars from European and other donors will go toward repairing the damage at the three sites - first at this ancient Phoenician port city whose history stretches back 7,000 years, then to Roman ruins at Baalbek and Roman-era frescos in Tyre.

But officials say they also worry that many other historic sites, such as old souks, or markets, not listed by UNESCO as World Heritage sites, also were damaged and are getting less attention.

In Byblos, once teeming with fishermen and tourists, the famous ruins of the crumbling castle-fortress, which have provided the backdrop for dozens of international concerts, are now blackened at the base with scum from an oil spill. The oil spilled after Israeli air strikes hit fuel storage tanks on Lebanon's coast in mid-July, during the war against Hezbollah.

"The stones of the two ancient towers at the port's entrance, and all the archaeological ruins, are very stained. The site is in immediate danger," said Mounir Bouchenaki, who led a UNESCO team that traveled to Lebanon to inspect the sites after the Aug. 14 cease-fire.

The cost of the cleanup could be about $100,000, and the work is expected to start within days after money arrives and coordination with Lebanese officials is completed, he said.

A tour boat passes an ancient fortress at the Phoenician port city of Byblos, the foundations of which are blackened by scum from an oil spill. According to UNESCO, three of Lebanon's five World Heritage sites are in need of urgent repairs following this summer's Israel-Hezbollah war.

A tour boat passes an ancient fortress at the Phoenician port city of Byblos, the foundations of which are blackened by scum from an oil spill. According to UNESCO, three of Lebanon's five World Heritage sites are in need of urgent repairs following this summer's Israel-Hezbollah war.

Byblos, one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world, has been linked to the legends and history of the Mediterranean region for thousands of years and is directly associated with the history and diffusion of the Phoenician alphabet.

The English word Bible is believed to be derived from Byblos, meaning "the papyrus," or "the book."

The charming harbor town is a major tourist site where international summer festivals are held every summer.

The site must be cleaned before winter to prevent permanent damage, said Bouchenaki, who also is director-general of the International Center for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property.

Other challenges await.

Down the southern coast at Tyre, valuable frescoes in a Roman-era tomb were shaken to the ground. And inland, a block of stone at the Roman ruins of Baalbek was toppled. In addition, already existing cracks in the temples of Jupiter and Bacchus at Baalbek may have widened because of vibrations from bombings in the area, says the UNESCO team and Lebanese officials.

Lebanon, a Mediterranean country of 4 million people, has five UNESCO World Heritage sites: Baalbek, Tyre and Byblos, plus Anjar and the Holy Valley of Qadisha and the Forest of the Cedars of God in northern Lebanon.

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