From ashes and debris, iconic Beirut museum reopens

Lebanon's Sursock Museum has reopened to the public, three years after a deadly explosion in Beirut's port, set off by tons of improperly stored chemicals, reduced many of its treasured paintings and collections to ashes.

The reopening on May 26 offered Beirut residents a rare bright spot in a country reeling from a crippling economic crisis.

Originally built as a private villa in 1912 on a hilltop overlooking the city's Achrafieh neighborhood, the opulent residence integrated Venetian and Ottoman styles. Its owner, famed Lebanese art collector Nicolas Ibrahim Sursock, bequeathed his beloved home to his people, to be turned into a contemporary art museum upon his death in 1952.

The museum housed Lebanese art dating back from the late 1800s, including the work of distinguished painter Georges Corm and Fouad Debbas' library of 30,000 photographs, one of the largest private photo collections. The photos are from across the Levant, a region encompassing countries along the eastern Mediterranean, from Türkiye to Egypt, from 1830 until the 1960s. In 2008, a seven-year project renovated and expanded the museum, relaunching it in 2015.

But the Aug. 4, 2020 blast in Beirut's port - only about 800 meters away - hit the museum fully front on. Its stained glass windows were shattered, doors were blown out, and almost half the artwork on display was damaged. The explosion ripped through much of Beirut, killing more than 200 people and injuring over 6,000.

The destruction was unprecedented, said museum director Karina El Helou, a level unseen even during Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war. Seventy percent of the building was badly damaged, as were 66 of the 132 art pieces on display, she said. Glass shards tore through Dutch artist Kees Von Dongen...

Continue reading on: