Located at the edge of Achrafieh is the National Museum of Beirut. Opened in 1943, the museum displays an overview of Lebanon's pre-war history and an archeological collection from the prehistoric age to the Mamluk period. Located on the Green Line during the Civil War, the building was severely damaged and closed in 1975. The museum reopened to the public in 1999. The National Museum of Beirut was once one of the most dangerous places on Earth. Closed for over two decades, as a result of the Lebanese Civil War, the museum reopened its basement level after more than 40 years. The museum was constructed between 1930 and 1937 to house a rich collection of artifacts from pre-history to the Ottoman period - all discovered on Lebanese soil.
When the Lebanese Civil War broke out in 1975, the museum was on the infamous Green Line that divided East and West Beirut. The director of antiquities decided to remove the small objects from showcases and hide them inside boxes in the basement of the museum, for safekeeping. Closed for two decades and occupied by military, the museum building was a wreck, with bullet holes peppering the facade and holes in the walls and roof caused by shelling. The basement was flooded with 50 centimeters of water and the humidity had badly damaged some of the wooden and terracotta objects. However, nearly every artifact survived the carnage. With softer lighting and a lower ceiling than the upper stories, the basement was eventually reopened and is now home to a spectacular collection of funerary art. Arranged chronologically, the 500-piece collection begins with a human tooth dating back 250,000 years and finishes with Ottoman stone carvings from the 19th century.
The museum display
The aim of the display is not only to show the archaeological artifacts, but to convey a sense of the rituals and burial practices of successive civilizations through reconstructions and video re-enactments. On display for the first time is a collection of mummified bodies from the 13th century, discovered in the Kadisha Valley in North Lebanon in 1989. Lebanon does not have a history of mummification, but the dry conditions in the valley led to the natural preservation of these bodies, which were found in cotton dresses embroidered with silk. Other notable artifacts include one of the earliest known paintings of the Virgin Mary, as well as Roman sarcophagi covered with intricate carvings.