Beirut’s iconic museum and train station restored by UNESCO and Italy
LiBeirut is an international flagship initiative launched from Beirut by the Director-General of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay, in the aftermath of the explosions of 2020 to support the rehabilitation of schools, historic heritage buildings, museums, galleries and the creative industries, all impacted by the 2020 explosions. Through this initiative, UNESCO already completed the rehabilitation of 280 educational institutions and helps revitalize Beirut historical heritage, including the Mar Mikhael old train station or the iconic Sursok Museum
Beirut needs to move forwards and turn again into one of the most important capitals of culture in the world. UNESCO and Italy are together supporting the flagship initiative LiBeirut, which fosters the reconstruction of schools and educational institutions, is also looking to rehabilitate heritage in the Lebanese capital.
Beirut Sursock Museum was the first rehabilitation project launched jointly by Italy and UNESCO in the field of cultural heritage after the explosion. The Sursock Museum is one of the few landmarks left of the Lebanese architecture and mansions of the 18th and 19th centuries in Venetian and Ottoman style in Beirut. It is housed in the 1912 villa of Nicolas Sursock who donated it to Lebanese people, together with his collections, binding the use of the villa as a museum of modern and contemporary art. Inaugurated in 1961, the museum hosts in its permanent collection over 1,500 pieces including paintings, sculptures, tapestries and installations, in addition to more than 30,000 valuable photographs, postcards and manuscripts. The reconstructed and renovated museum reopened its doors at the end of May.
In July 2023, UNESCO and Italy signed a new agreement to finance the restoration and rehabilitation of the industrial heritage assets of the Beirut Mar Mikhael Train Station, which dates from 1894. The station was abandoned during the Civil War and was also impacted by the port blasts on 4 August 2020.
The new project is part of a comprehensive intervention funded by Italy to preserve the industrial heritage of Mar Mikhael old train station and to open the space to the public. The first component of the Italian funded interventionaims at creating a green public space in the train station area to the benefit of Beirut residents. With the second component, Italy’s grant will allow UNESCO to preserve the initial function of the site and its cultural value and authenticity, while creating a platform for social connection, cultural experience, and artistic creativity. This is expected to foster social and cultural connection by providing an open space for artists to work and market their products. The initiative is realised in close collaboration with the Ministry of Culture and in agreement with the Railway and Public Transport Authority of the Ministry of Public Works and Transport.
The rail station to be a new cultural open space for residents and visitors
“With this project, Italy strengthens its engagement in the field of urban heritage preservation” – stressed the Ambassador of Italy in Lebanon, Nicoletta Bombardiere. “After the restoration of the Sursock Museum, the requalification of the Mar Mikhail Train Station is another step towards healing the socio-economic and cultural fabric of Beirut damaged by the Port blast. Protecting and promoting cultural heritage can be a driver for sustainable development, while also reinforcing the identity of a nation. This is why our partnership with Lebanon is a continuum, which includes other milestone projects such as the National Museum of Beirut and the Jupiter Temple in Baalbeck. The partnership with UNESCO plays an important role in this strategy”.
“Through the LiBeirut initiative, UNESCO places heritage at the heart of the international efforts. In the field of cultural heritage safeguarding, UNESCO is proud of this strategic partnership with Italy, which is the most prominent donor of the LiBeirut heritage component. This initiative is a testament to our joint commitment to enhance Beirut livability and to strategically contribute to its revival. As an open space to the public, the project will support social and cultural participation for all people, with special attention to the most vulnerable at times of severe socioeconomic challenges in the country”, said the Director of the UNESCO Multisectoral Regional Office in Beirut, Costanza Farina.
Leveraging UNESCO’s specialised expertise in cultural heritage conservation, six heritage buildings from different historic periods will be rehabilitated. The shapes and structures will be carefully repaired and scientifically restored according to international standards and good practices, utilising original materials and building techniques that will preserve the sites’ attributes and authenticity.
Railways bare values that make them one of the most important elements of industrial heritage, while train stations are being reimagined today to create dynamic, multifunctional spaces where people can do more than set out on or arrive from a journey. The Mar Mikhael Train Station, a unique industrial heritage site in the heart of Beirut, holds a huge potential in becoming a space where citizens can enjoy social and cultural exchanges. And also become a major attraction for tourists to the Lebanese capital city in the future.