American University of Beirut

AUB Archaeological Museum tells the world of Beirut’s fall and rise

​​​​​​​​​​​​​Safa Jafari Safa, Office of Communications,​​​

A display has been launched at the British Museum, UK of glass vessels from the Archaeological Museum ​of AUB that have been restored after the Beirut Port explosion in 2020 through a collaboration between the two museums. A launching ceremony was held for all who worked on the restoration and friends of the two museums. The Shattered Glass of Beirut collection is now exhibited as part of the Asahi Shimbun Displays of the British Museum.

The case at the AUB Museum, the third oldest museum in the near east, after Cairo and Constantinople, originally displayed 74 glass vessels from the Roman, Byzantine, and Islamic period. After it was blown away by the force of the blast, most vessels were shattered beyond repair. Two of them survived the explosion.

The collaboration between the two museums started shortly after the explosion when curator of the Archaeological Museum, Dr. Nadine Panayot, was contacted by the British Museum for restoration help and research.

“Like the rest of the world, we looked on in horror at the devastating scenes in Beirut in August last year. We immediately offered the assistance of the British Museum to colleagues in the city," stated Hartwig Fischer, director of the British Museum, in a press release upon launch of the collaboration, 

“We're pleased to be able to provide the expertise and resources of the British Museum to restore these important ancient objects so they can be enjoyed in Lebanon for many more years to come," he added.

Of the items identified as salvageable, 17 were restored through several campaigns held at the AUB Museum and eight were deemed safe to travel to the British Museum, which has the facilities and expertise to restore and conserve them.

Funding was gathered by the Middle East Department at the British Museum from the European Fine Art Foundation (TEFAF), followed by other funding, for restoration, staff training, and scientific research at the British Museum.

After a painstaking process of picking up the fragments from the floor, carefully collecting the shards of ancient glass from the mixed debris that included glass from the display case and surrounding museum windows, the fragments were identified and assigned to their respective vessels. They were then cleaned, stabilized, consolidated, then restored using Paraloid B-72 as an adhesive.

The eight objects reflect the development of glass-blowing technology in Lebanon in the 1st century BC. This technique enabled the mass production of glass objects in different forms. Six of the restored vessels were made by early glass-blowing technology and show experimentation in function and form. The other two vessels date to the late Byzantine - early Islamic periods, and may have been imported to Lebanon from neighboring glass manufacturing centers in Syria or Egypt.

“Most of the objects are witnesses to our lives," said Dr. Nadine Panayot, who spoke to us about this first collaboration between the two museums and future possibilities being considered. “Today, after being brought to life again, they have a new mission, they have stories to tell and we have lessons to learn from them."

The exhibition at the British Museum has been co-curated by Dr. Nadine Panayot, and from the British Museum Dr. James Fraser, curator for the Ancient Levant and Anatolia, and Dr. Zeina Klink-Hope, Phyllis Bishop curator for the Modern Middle East, to tell the story of Beirut and its glass, from shatter to recovery, to a global audience. AUB's “Shattered Glass of Beirut" collection will remain on display at the British Museum until October 23, 2022.

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