Ancient statues return to Lebanon as war on smuggling intensifies

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A picture taken on February 2, 2018 shows a Phoenician sculpture of a young boy wearing a long shirt dating back to the 5th century BC, part of a collection of repatriated artefacts on display during a ceremony at Beirut National Museum. (AFP)
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Lebanon's Culture Minister Ghattas Khoury reacts as he stands next to Matthew Bogdanos, assistant district attorney for Manhattan at Beirut National Museum in Beirut. (REUTERS)
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A picture taken on Feb. 2, 2018 shows a sculpture of a bull's head dating back to the 4th century BC, part of a collection of repatriated artefacts on display during a ceremony at Beirut National Museum. (AFP)
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Lebanon's Culture Minister Ghattas Khoury is seen at Beirut's National Museum in Beirut, Lebanon February 2, 2018. (REUTERS)
Updated 07 February 2018
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Ancient statues return to Lebanon as war on smuggling intensifies

BEIRUT: Ancient sculptures that were missing for decades after being stolen during Lebanon’s civil war are to go on display in Beirut thanks to a global fight against antiquities smuggling that has been stepped up since wartime looting in Iraq and Syria.
The five marble statues were among a haul of hundreds that Lebanese militiamen took from a storehouse in 1981, some of which are only now emerging onto the shadowy global arts market and even into the world’s greatest museums.
Three of the five sculptures unveiled at a ceremony in Beirut on Friday were spotted in New York’s Metropolitan Museum — where they were on loan from a private collector — by a curator who identified them using the Art Loss Register, an online database of stolen artefacts.
One of the people instrumental in getting them sent back to Lebanon was Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos, an Iraq war veteran who led the investigation into looting at the national museum in Baghdad during the chaos of the US-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein.
Outrage at looting there and in Syria, and fear that art trafficking was funding militant groups, has driven countries to work together to stop it, said Bogdanos, who was in Beirut on Friday for a ceremony to unveil the statues.
“It has resulted in greater attention, greater scrutiny and greater resources, all of which we desperately need in order to fight such an entrenched global network,” Bogdanos, whose office has recovered thousands of stolen antiquities in recent years, told Reuters at the ceremony at Beirut’s National Museum.
One of the other statues was identified last year by a gallery in Germany, which noticed it on the Art Loss Register. The fifth was seized in a container entering Lebanon’s port of Tripoli last month.
Archaeologists excavated all the statues in the 1960s and 1970s in Sidon at the Temple of Eshmoun, a god of healing.
They were carved between the sixth and fourth centuries BC, when Lebanon’s Phoenician civilization was ruled by the Persian empire but influenced by Greek art and culture.
One of the statues, a bull’s head, was from the capital of a pillar in the temple. The other statues, of youths and children, included one dedicated to the temple by fond relatives in thanks for the recovery from illness of their child.
“HERITAGE IS NOT FOR SALE"
They will be added to the Beirut museum’s display of Eshmoun sculptures, which include a complete capital with bull heads facing in each direction and marble statues of babies and children.
Only a handful of more than 500 Eshmoun statues pillaged from the storerooms of Byblos citadel in 1981 have been identified and returned to Lebanon.
“We will put every resource that we have to recover any piece wherever it is and whoever thinks it belongs to him. Our heritage is not for sale,” said Lebanon’s Culture Minister Ghattas Khoury.
Like these pieces, items smuggled from Iraq and Syria may stay hidden for decades before traffickers start selling them to collectors.
“It is rare that we would see anything on the market for 10 or 20 or even 30 years, because they do have the patience. They stockpile these pieces,” said Bogdanos.
The international nature of the trade makes it hard to trace them.
“If you would follow the pieces which we have here, there was a kind of ping-pong between Europe, America, Europe again ... it’s a globalization,” said Rolf Stucky, a Swiss archaeologist who registered many of the looted Eshmoun statues on Art Loss in the 1990s, allowing them to be identified now.
But countries now share information and help train authorities, both in the main markets for stolen artefacts and in the regions from which they come.
Lebanon itself has stopped many foreign pieces from being shipped through Beirut, said Ghattas. As a neighbor of Syria, it is a major route for items looted from there.
“In many respects (smugglers) didn’t have to be smart in their trafficking behavior simply because no countries were cooperating enough, were devoting enough resources to stop it,” said Bogdanos.
“That has all changed.”


Exhibition showcases expansions of Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah

Those wishing to see the exhibition must send a request confirming the date of the visit, which can be from Sunday to Thursday. (SPA)
Updated 19 August 2018
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Exhibition showcases expansions of Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah

  • During the Saudi era, the mosque witnessed a great expansion during the reign of King Abdul Aziz in 1953
  • The mosque’s ongoing expansion is in line with the Kingdom’s Vision 2030, which aims to provide as many pilgrims as possible with the opportunity to easily perform their rituals

JEDDAH: An exhibition in Madinah, organized by the General Presidency of the Prophet’s Mosque, is showcasing the mosque’s expansions since its establishment by the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
“The exhibition, in the southern part of the mosque, highlights its expansions throughout history with 50 paintings, photographs, presentations, models and documentaries in Arabic and English,” said Faez Al-Faez, the exhibition’s director.
“The exhibition also includes copies of manuscripts, a model of the Prophet’s ring, photos of his letters and 200-year-old Qur’ans,” he added.
“The exhibition includes the most important books about Madinah, and a hall where visitors are shown a 20-minute video about the stages during which the mosque witnessed expansions since the prophet’s era,” Al-Faez said.
“The Prophet Muhammad was the first to expand the mosque in 628, followed by Caliph Omar bin Al-Khattab in 638. The mosque was later expanded in the years 651, 710, 778, 782, 1483, 1849 and 1861,” he added.
“During the Saudi era, the mosque witnessed a great expansion during the reign of King Abdul Aziz in 1953,” Al-Faez said.
“The expansions and development projects continued until King Salman ordered the completion of the expansion of the eastern and western sides in 2015,” he added.
“King Salman’s interest in this matter reflects the attention and keenness of the kings of Saudi Arabia to serve the visitors of Madinah, especially those visiting the Prophet’s Mosque, which holds a special place in the hearts of all Muslims,” Al-Faez said.
“The mosque’s ongoing expansion is in line with the Kingdom’s Vision 2030, which aims to provide as many pilgrims as possible with the opportunity to easily perform their rituals,” he added.
Those wishing to see the exhibition must send a request confirming the date of the visit, which can be from Sunday to Thursday.
Visitors praised the details of the mosque’s construction and expansions, and commended the Kingdom’s constant efforts since the reign of its founder King Abdul Aziz to take care of and expand the mosque.