British Museum restores Beirut objects

Eight glass vessels which were destroyed in the Beirut port explosion in Lebanon, 4 August 2020, are currently being restored by the British Museum, with the support of The European Fine Art Foundation.

The case of glass vessels displayed at the Archaeological Museum (AUB) before the explosion. [Image: Courtesy of the AUB Office of Communications and Archaeological Museum]

The vessels were salvaged from a case in the Archaeological Museum at the American University of Beirut. The museum, which was 3.2km away from the port explosion, was heavily damaged by the blast, and the force of the explosion knocked over a case containing 74 Roman, Byzantine, and Islamic period glass vessels, shattering the objects inside. Most were destroyed beyond repair, and of the 15 that were salvageable, only eight items could be safely transported to the British Museum.

The restoration project, which began in August 2021, marking the first anniversary of the explosion, will painstakingly piece these objects back together in the conservation laboratories at the British Museum in London. Once they have been fully restored, they will go on temporary display in the Museum, before being returned to Beirut.

These objects play an important role in telling the story of the development of glass-blowing technology in Lebanon in the 1st century BC. This was a key period, when new glass production techniques enabled mass production of many different types of glass objects, and made this once elite material available for common, domestic use.

The Museum team, conservator and student volunteers retrieve fragments of broken glass vessels from amongst the shattered glass from the display case and nearby windows, at the Archaeological Museum, AUB. [Courtesy of the AUB Office of Communications and Archaeological Museum]