During our tour of the excavations in Byblos we heard over and over again about objects that were unearthed there that are now in the National Museum in Beirut. Clearly, a trip to the museum was in order.
As with our trip to Byblos, this journey did not get off to a good start. Before heading to the museum we ran a few errands in Hamra, one of which was to make extra keys for the apartment. We wanted a set to give to guests who visit, and a few to leave with other ACS folks in the apartment building in case we locked ourselves out by mistake. Upon returning from our morning errands we had lunch, checked out the bus route to the museum and then took off. Immediately upon closing the door to the apartment we realized neither of us had our keys. And had we distributed any of our newly minted keys to neighbors? Of course not. So, now what? Our first strategy was to check to see if anyone was in the office in the apartment building. No luck there. Next, we went to Tom and Kris’s apartment two floors down where we called Ibrahim, the head of Physical Plant at school and the guy in charge of keys for all ACS facilities. He called school and told the guard on duty to find Ishmael who would let me into his office to retrieve a key. Ishmael had to be called away from his swim in the sea, but he graciously helped me get a key to our place. I owe him big time. A box of baklava maybe?
Once we got our keys we headed to the Corniche to catch bus #15, which would take us to the Museum, 2 to 3 kilometers away. This was the experience of the day. The ride costs 1000 Lebanese pounds per person, or all of 66 cents US money. One can ride anywhere in this city for that fare. Mind you, these are not air-conditioned or in anyway luxurious buses.
Bus 15 begins its route on the Corniche, a two minute walk from our place. We sat in the bus for about 10 minutes waiting for it to depart. During that time we had a conversation…I guess you can call it that… with one of the bus drivers who spoke as much English as we spoke Arabic. We looked at our maps, showed each other pictures of our children and jabbered at each other. Lots of hand motions were involved. So much fun!
We were forewarned that the first part of this ride might be a bit slow, as the driver would “troll” along the Corniche looking for more for riders. A bit slow does not begin to describe the speed this bus traveled for the first kilometer or so. We did pass a few walkers, but certainly no runners. The Arabic music on the bus was blaring for the riders’ entertainment. I am learning to love this music. It has a good beat and is easy to dance to. Once we got beyond the Corniche we did pick up speed and ultimately arrived at the National Museum.
We started our tour by viewing a short video that gave some of the history of the museum, primarily its recovery from the devastation of the civil war. The building is situated on what was the Green Line and thus received extensive damage, as did a considerable part of its collection. Fortunately, the larger pieces were encased in concrete before the fighting escalated in that part of town. The film showed clips of these pieces being opened after the war, as well as people going into the museum’s storeroom for the first time in years. It was a moving and well-made video.
The museum itself is relatively small and is easily seen in a few hours. The first floor contains large pieces; sarcophagi, statues, mosaics and pieces of carvings. The well preserved piece showing Ramses II in battle was amazing. But the smaller pieces upstairs were the highlights for me. Case upon case held items dating as far back as 5000 BC. We are talking Neolithic pieces, and stunning work from the Stone and Bronze Ages! WOW! As we continued through the second floor we viewed pieces from progressive periods in Lebanese history; Phoenician, Egyptian, Roman, Islamic, etc. For the smaller pieces the museum provides a magnifier that slides along the case and gives the viewer a chance to see the intricacies of each piece. This museum is a must stop for any visitor to Beirut.
Then we got to ride the bus back home where a couple of cold Almaza’s were waiting! Just another day of adventure in Beyrouth.