La Nuit des Musées: Unearthing History

Christina Batrouni

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The Ministry of Culture organised its fourth La Nuit des Musées (Night of the Museums) on Friday, April 7. Museums opened their doors for free to the public, allowing a beautiful flow of Lebanese culture to seep through the attendees.

The museums included in this year’s tour were Beirut National Museum, the Minerals Museum in USJ, the AUB Archaeological Museum, Sursock Museum, Banque Du Liban Museum, Saint Joseph University Prehistory Museum, Villa Audi, MACAM Museum (Byblos), and the Ethnology Museum (Balamand). The night included a bus shuttle that would transport people from one museum to the other; reducing traffic jam and making transportation more accessible.

The museum doors opened at 5 p.m., with people anxiously gathering outside them to enter.

In Beirut, the most massive crowd was that in front of the Beirut National Museum, where the opening of the night was the most eventful, including food, beverages, and light music to go with the colourful lights enclosing the museum.

Other musical and artistic events were held in the Ethnology Museum in Balamand and the MACAM Museum in Balamand. Attendees were of all ages, social classes, and places, with many foreigners eagerly entering the museum to get a glimpse of the cultural foundations of the country.

Starting at the Beirut National Museum, the highlight of the night was the recently opened and renovated basement displaying funerary-themed items. The most important of those was the collection of anthropoid sarcophagi; stone coffins relating to Egyptian, Roman, and Greek civilisations, discovered in Saida in the 19th century.

The sarcophagi were previously placed in tombs, burial chambers, or alcoves found in areas like Ain el-Hilweh and Magharet Tabloun. The sarcophagi are formed by a container and a lid, also showing the facial features of the deceased and shaped after the body’s look. For this reason, they were named “anthropoid,” from the Greek term anthropos, coined by French historian Ernest Renan in 1860.

Most of the sarcophagi discovered in the past are now exhibited in the Louvre Museum, and the National Museum of Beirut exhibits thirty-one anthropoid sarcophagi in its basement, which is now known as the “Ford Gallery.”

In addition to the National Museum, I also toured USJ’s Mim Museum, which is rich in crystals, gems, and stones, and AUB’s Archaeological Museum, which is the third oldest museum in the Near East.

However, the important question to ask here is whether the free passes of the night were actually useful, considering that some of the museums -such as AUB and Sursock- are already free to access and others have fees that are below 5,000 L.L..

There is no real difference between the prices of tickets and actually entering them for free, and having them as such attracts tourists and heightens their popularity, exposing Lebanon’s culture and embracing it. So why not have them free all the time?

However, the announcement of the tour got a lot of attention and was a successful one, compared to regular museum days. But does this lie on the fact that they were free?

Many factors played in attracting audiences, like the previously mentioned ambience.

This annual tour was a success, like previous years. The night was filled with joy, enthusiasm, discussions around different ancient items, and a great atmosphere of people who wanted to learn more about Lebanon’s history.

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