The JV between Cooperativa Archeologia and Italiana Costruzioni is in charge on the restoration and valorization project in Baalbek and Tyre. Baalbek was enlisted in UNESCO heritage sites in 1984, because of the greatest importance of its history through the ages and its archaeological remains. It is located in the Beqaa valley, in the North-East side of Lebanon.
Signs of almost continual habitation are testified over the last 8–9000 years. The monumental complex still existing belongs mostly to Hellenistic and Roman Period, with some remodeling occurred during the Middle Age by Arab populations, who fortified the ruins they found in order to control the territory nearby. The two temples of Jupiter (Figure 1) (for its huge proportions: it is the greatest temple all over the Roman Empire) and of Bacchus (for its good state of conservation) are some of the iconic symbols of Lebanon, but represents some of the most impressive heritage of ancient times throughout the Middle East as well. On the other end, Tyre itself is a UNESCO site. Divided in two main areas of City Site (Al Mina) and Al Bass, the old Phoenician town shows nowadays relevant Roman and Byzantine monuments, such as a triumphal arch, a hippodrome, colonnade roads, public and private baths (Figure 2), funerary complex with sarcophagi. The great extension of the archaeological sites, the importance of the town and its influence through the ages and the Mediterranean area (many colonies were founded abroad by its inhabitants, i.e. Carthage) mark Tyre as one of the most important old settlement of the Middle East.
Especially in this last city, the work is on an advanced stage: most of the restoration is already executed, the civil works are in progress. Concerning Baalbek, the first steps were moved with the cleaning of some archaeological stone blocks and with the installation of some pedestrian paths around the site. The core of our project here, the structural intervention and restoration of Jupiter Temple’s six columns, is in the preliminary phase of the all necessary investigations (Figure 3), in order to assess a more detailed and accurate work, after acquired all the data requested. Meanwhile a huge scaffolding has been assembled around the monument (Figure 4), and through it we acquired many additional information related to the nature and progressive decay of the monument, including the previous restoration carried out in the 30s of last century.
All our activity, with our Italian expertise and with the help also of local subcontractors, is spread in continuous coordination with the client CDR (Council for development and Reconstruction), the DGA (Directorate General of Antiquities) and the Consultant (Figure 5).
By now the JV is moving steps in many sites of the archaeological complex. All around the main walls, and in the area of Venus Temple and the new Visitor Center, the presentation works for the visitors are in progress. Meanwhile a group of restorers is focused on the restoration of limestone blocks (Figure 6), that are going to be exhibited in the Cryptoporticus, and of fifteen sarcophagi, that will be displayed at the new entrance. In the general view of the project, concerning tourists’ circulation, many areas are involved, with different solutions.
At the Propylea we are executing a new green settlement, reshaping the original roman staircase; in Bustan Zein, Bustan Nassif and Arab Gate a long system of footpaths and new toilets; in the Hexagonal Court and Great Court we are going to relocate many stone blocks, in order to give more sense to them, and we will grant also safety to everybody, settling some archaeological trenches, still open; in the east and west fronts of Jupiter Temple, new staircases will allow an easier access and way out.
Without any doubt, the greatest task in Baalbek concerns the six columns of Jupiter Temple. After assembled a scaffolding, imported from Italy, around it, 85 years later the past restoration carried out by a French team, we are able to have a wonderful close up on all the details of this incredible monument. While appreciating its decorative system, we also took advantage to evaluate all the aspects necessary to re-assess, with a major definition, both the structural and restoration intervention. Indeed there are many elements, related to the monument itself and the past intervention also, that occurred and affected considerably the temple. Its particular condition (six columns preserved in only one side), the limestone constituting all the elevation (naturally presenting micro-cracks), oscillations due to the wind and earthquakes, all the iron inserted 85 years ago and now oxidizing, the relevant weight added over the lintel with the reinforced concrete beam, many fragments of different sizes detached from all the parts (bases, drums, capitals and lintel), the climatic excursion with the winter component of frost and thaw, the decay of the surfaces, combined all together are the most important issues. A campaign of structural investigations (including magnetometry, endoscopy and corings) has been executed in order to acquire other information. With the evaluation of the outcomes, our duty will be the assessment of the most useful structural work, in order to ensure the stability of the monument, and of the restoration. This will be, with awareness and pride, our task in the next months (Figure 7).
The JV is active in the two different sites of All Bass and City Site. As in Baalbek, also here the work follows the two lines of restoration for some ancient structures, and presentation of the sites with new paths, balustrades and explicatory panels. A particular case is the finishing of the Museum building, with the relevant showcase of some archaeological finds.
At the entrance of Al Bass, since during an archaeological investigation a grave was unearthed, we already consolidated the artifact (Figure 8) and are going to partially modify the path, installing a metal bridge. The three main buildings, object of our work here, are: the Apollo Shrine (Figure 9), an ancient religious building, affected by a huge decay; the Blue Team Complex, next to the Hippodrome, displaying an interesting mix of structures (floorings, basins, furnaces); and the Crusader Church, built in early XIII AD, overlapping the previous Hippodrome.
The activity here is almost completed. It was focused on cleaning and consolidation of all the surfaces, vertical and horizontal, with special care to mosaics and opus sectile (Figure 10). All the buildings will be open to the visitors, by means of a new circulation’s route, and the installation of the necessary requirements.
In City Site, following the same concept, the monuments we are restoring will be integrated in a new system of pedestrian footpaths, that will allow audience to enjoy the visit. Therefore, in locations such as the Commercial Building and Arena, the work is oriented entirely on the presentation. In Coordination with CDR and DGA, only some urgent measures will be undertaken in order to stop the advanced decay of some delicate pavements. Moreover, in Palestra, where an excessive excavation affected the colonnade, leaving on light even its foundations, a considerable backfilling and gabionade were put, sustaining the archaeological structure and allowing installation of the path. But in other areas, an intense work of cleaning and consolidation has been already carried out and almost completed. In Latrinae, along with the reinstatement of walls, the mosaics were the most delicate task, because of their advanced decay. A small part of them, as a sample, has been detached, consolidated on an aluminum panel, and eventually replaced in its position. In Thermae, the current poor stage of conservation required a deep action, especially on the exposed foundations and the marble slabs of the floorings.
In both Baalbek and Tyre, part of our challenge is already accomplished, in the next months we will complete the rest of our mission.
[by Roberta Bianchini, Renzo Bozzi, Andrea Calì, Stefano Coccia, Giuseppe Sammartino]