Explanatory notes on the projects threatening Tyre and its surroundings.
Three projects pose a serious threat to Tyre and its archaeological boundary:
1. The Route of the Southern Highway
2. The Ports of Tyre
3. The Natural Reserve of Tyre
The works authorized by the Lebanese Authorities in Sept 1996 for the construction of the Southern Highway have been completed to the Litani River (Qasmiye), 12 km north of Tyre.
It should be noted that in the district of Tyre, the planned route crosses a very rich area, where 26 archaeological sites have so far been determined by various opportune discoveries and by numerous scientific reports.
Following the Roman Aqueduct from Ras el Ain to Tyre and cutting the wall of Paleo-Tyre, an enclosure of approximately ten kilometers in length built by Alexander the Great, (according to the map drawn up in 1802 by J.D.Barbie du Bocage), the route of the planned highway passes near Tell el Mashuq, which is considered by most archaeologists as the center of ancient Palao-Tyre. It is there that Renan placed the temple of Hercules Astrochiton and Movers the temple of Ashtarout. This site houses rock tombs adorned with magnificent frescoes, some of which, discovered by Dunand in 1937 can be seen at the National Museum in Beirut. The road from Borj el Chemali leading to Tyre is located, according to Mr. Bernard Fonquernie, the expert who was sent to Tyre on a mission by UNESCO en 1996, “directly on the Roman aqueduct still in existence in this place”.
In addition, the route for the highway, which is 100 meters wide, cuts through one of the most fertile agricultural regions of the Lebanon, and it is certain to be detrimental to its economic future. It also crosses a zone open to urban development, taking no account of the environment and thereby cutting the new city of Tyre in half.
The International Scientific Committee set up by UNESCO recommended: "the establishment of an archaeological study zone all along the planned route of the future highway. A legal, administrative and financial edict of this kind would permit the setting up of a program and timetable so that research, surveys and excavations can be carried out before work could begin on this highway. That is how a Japanese mission working in the region of Tyre for many years has made important archeological discoveries at Tell el-Maachouf and Ramali.
M. Drocourt, an expert appointed by UNESCO, recommended "taking into consideration, for the final plan of the highway, the importance of the extensive archeological site of Tyre, the inscription of which on the World Heritage List (confirmed by the Lebanese Permanent Delegate at UNESCO) mentions the territory of Tyre from Sarafand in the north to the hills east of Borj ech-Chimali, and as far as Ras el-Ain in the South. The actual presence of the ancient aqueduct, corroborated by old engravings, makes it imperative to safeguard strategic sectors such as the buttresses of Ramali and Nabbaah (Tell el-Maachouq.)"
In view of the presence of the ancient aqueduct and the systematic occupation of the heights dominating the site of the old town throughout history, Mr. Drocourt recommends protecting the sector Tell el-Maachouq, thereby confirming the extent and boundaries of the archaeological sites of Tyre and its surrounding areas.
It is clear that the plan for the highway as defined initially was extremely damaging to the archaeological sites and could have been moved some ten kilometers to the east of the city where it would cut through an area of sterile hills. This would have increased the cost of the works, but that would be compensated by the rescue of an agricultural zone of primary importance and the saving on compulsory expropriations. The alternative route would assist in the development of an inland region that is under-developed while protecting this Patrimony of Mankind. Since July 2000, the Director General of UNESCO, Mr. Koichiro Matsuura, has given his assurance that UNESCO would provide assistance for precautionary excavations along the planned route of the highway. UNESCO will also assist in drawing up an urgent study of the socio-economic, rural and archeological conditions.
As a result of successive campaigns by AIST and its numerous committees at the national level, two variations of the planned route were proposed in January 2001 to the Department of Public Works. The second amendment was the best as regards the protection of the archeological sites. However, in order to justify their reluctance to modify the plans for the highway, the authorities used the pretext that the hilly terrain would entail the construction of bridges, which would make the second option too costly and difficult.
However the cost of building one kilometer of this highway costs as follows:
For the present plan: US$ 4,500,000
For the second variation: US$ 7,000,000
(an increase of 30% in cost)
But compulsory expropriations would cost:
For the present plan: US$ 50 per square meter
For the second variation: US$ 3 per square meter
Thus the final cost would be the same without taking into account the considerable loss of agricultural income valued at US$ 10,000,000 annually.
The last report on the state of conservation of Tyre produced by the Directors of the Department of Antiquities at the request of the Center for World Heritage states, without giving details, that the plan for the highway east of Tyre has been modified!
Contrary to expectations, ignoring the recommendations of all the experts involved, instead of detouring the highway away from the town, a section of two kilometers has been re-routed closer to Tyre, cutting Alexander's Wall and the Roman Aqueduct in several places to the detriment of both the urban and rural zones of Tyre. Only the interchange at Tell Ell-Mashouq has been moved one kilometer to the north.
To prevent the highway from passing through the listed sites in the region of Tyre, it is imperative that the Authorities concerned take a decisive step to alter the planned highway from the Litani River.
We are expecting a clear statement from UNESCO and the World Heritage Center to save this site that is classified as the Heritage of Makind.