Putting Pieces of Beirut’s Past Back Together

LONDON — The cataclysmic explosion that shook Beirut final August killed greater than 200 individuals and injured hundreds. It additionally inflicted enduring harm on invaluable items of Lebanon’s tradition and heritage.

Nearly 130 objects had been destroyed in two museums close to the positioning of the blast — the Sursock Museum of fashionable and up to date artwork (based by a Lebanese collector), and the American University of Beirut Archaeological Museum. At the latter, 72 valuable glass vessels, some almost 2,000 years outdated, had been smashed.

Eight of the vessels will now be restored on the British Museum, due to a grant of 25,000 euros (about $29,475) from the TEFAF Museum Restoration Fund, arrange in 2012 to assist protect main museum artworks. The oldest vessel is a ribbed bowl (dated 50 to 70 A.D.) from the Imperial Roman interval that was produced regionally. It is one of a half-dozen Imperial Roman vessels within the batch; the opposite two are an early Islamic flask and an early Byzantine jug.

Workers retrieving fragments of glass vessels from a vitrine that fell within the blast.Credit…by way of the AUB Office of Communications and Archaeological Museum

“It’s awful to see something that has survived so long in antiquity suddenly being broken,” stated Sandra Smith, head of the British Museum’s collections care division, which can perform the restoration.

She described the repairs as “some of the most complex types of glass conservation” that her workforce had ever undertaken. Each piece will take a median of 60 hours to reconstruct, and the challenge as an entire will take about 4 months. The vessels will go away Beirut for London within the subsequent few months, as soon as the paperwork and insurance coverage have been accomplished.

To Nadine Panayot, the curator in cost of the AUB Archaeological Museum, the explosions in 2020 had been each a private and knowledgeable trauma. She had solely simply been appointed to the job and was a month away from beginning it when, at round 6 p.m. on Aug. four, almost three,000 tons of ammonium nitrate blew up within the port of Beirut.

“I thought it was another car bomb,” stated Ms. Panayot, who was driving by Beirut on the time. “I heard the first and then the second bomb, and then I couldn’t see anything in front of my car, because there were fumes.”

While her husband and three daughters had been unhurt, she returned to her condo and located home windows and blinds and a sliding door smashed, and her 14-year-old daughter, who had been house alone, in a state of full panic.

The vitrine earlier than the explosion.Credit…by way of the AUB Office of Communications and Archaeological Museum

The subsequent day, she went to the museum, a century-old stone constructing with extra-high ceilings and tall, wood-framed home windows. Seventeen home windows and 5 doorways had been blown out. The collections had been intact aside from a single metal-framed glass vitrine, which had “fallen facedown, trapping inside of it 74 pieces,” she recalled. Only two tiny goblets within the vitrine survived the blast, she stated, including that in any other case, “I was swimming in a sea of glass.”

Ms. Panayot reached out to the Institut National du Patrimoine in Paris, which shortly despatched materials and an skilled restorer. The French restorer, the museum workforce and a gaggle of volunteers sifted by hundreds of glass shards from the home windows, the vitrine and the traditional vessels. Using images, they matched each tiny piece of vintage glass with the unique treasure. Ten objects had been restored on the museum in Beirut, and eight extra had been recognized as match for journey to London as soon as funding got here by from TEFAF.

The Beirut glass restoration challenge (submitted by the British Museum) was unanimously chosen from round 40 grant functions by the TEFAF committee of consultants, stated Hidde van Seggelen, chairman of TEFAF’s govt committee. The eligibility standards had been broadened this 12 months to incorporate public museums wherever on the planet, not solely these visiting TEFAF Maastricht, as had been the factors as much as 2019. The different successful challenge was a portray by Édouard Manet on the National Museum Wales.

“The impact of the catastrophe was enormous, and we are convinced that it is important to support such an essential project in difficult times,” Mr. van Seggelen stated in an e-mail interview.

A conservator engaged on reassembling a glass dish on the museum.Credit…by way of the AUB Office of Communications and Archaeological Museum

How important are these items? “This is the epicenter of where glass blowing developed, and these vessels represent that,” stated Jamie Fraser, curator for the traditional Levant and Anatolia on the British Museum.

They additionally inform an essential up to date story, he added.

“Although the story is tragic, and it’s really tragic, the scars of these broken vessels, once restored, are incredibly powerful,” Mr. Fraser stated. Archaeological initiatives “define the Middle East by what it has lost.”

“An artifact in a museum shouldn’t sit there getting dusty, being inert and dead,” he defined. “Artifacts in museums are dynamic. They take on their meaning and their context and are constantly changed and tell different stories.”

Ms. Smith stated the restoration was not a easy course of of gluing glass fragments again collectively. Her groups needed to make it possible for “whatever we apply to the glass won’t cause it to be damaged, and that it will last for a long time so that we’re not suddenly having to take it apart again in five years,” she stated. The course of additionally should be “reversible, so if for example another piece was found and we wanted to get that piece into that vessel, we can take it apart without doing any damage.”

Post-restoration, the vessels will go on show on the British Museum in an exhibition co-curated by Ms. Panayot and Mr. Fraser, “not just to show the technology of glass blowing and what Roman glass looked like, but to talk through the process of how they were put back together, what they represent, and the story of Beirut at the moment,” he stated.

After that, Mr. Fraser added, “the vessels go back to Beirut where they belong.”