Exhibitions | 30-09-2022

Shattered Glass of Beirut exhibition at British Museum

Many people will remember hearing about the explosion at the port of Beirut in August 2020, when a massive stockpile of ammonium nitrate exploded.

The blast killed at least 218 people, injured 7,000 and displaced 300,000, as well as causing billions of pounds of damage.

What is less well known is that a case displaying 74 ancient glass vessels at the Archaeological Museum at the American University of Beirut (AUB) was destroyed by the explosion. The museum was just over 3km from the epicentre.

The shards of ancient glass were mixed with those from the case and surrounding windows, seemingly inextricable.

“The story of the restoration of eight of these vessels is a powerful expression of the grief, solidarity and recovery of the people of Lebanon,” states the British Museum.

In a collaboration between the AUB and the British Museum, these shattered vessels were transported to the Museum’s world-class conservation centre and put together again, piece by piece.

Staff from the Archaeological Museum worked with British Museum conservators for three months. The result is that the eight vessels, which are mainly Roman, with a few Byzantine and Islamic examples, are now whole again.

The fragments were carefully and laboriously sorted so that each vessel could be sensitively and painstakingly reconstructed. The team deliberately made the joins between the shards visible and, though some of the missing areas were filled to support the surrounding fragments, others were left unfilled.

The British Museum adds, “These visible scars and missing fragments bear witness to the explosion and the determination of the people of Lebanon to recover.

“Ranging from the first to the ninth century, the bowls, flask, beaker, jug and cup in this display collectively speak of the rich cultural heritage of the wider region – and they now tell new stories through the scars they bear.”

After being on display at the British Museum, the vessels will be returned to Beirut.

The ‘Shattered glass of Beirut’ exhibition is supported by The Asahi Shimbun Japanese newspaper.

It is on until 23 October 2022 in Room 3 of the British Museum, Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3DG, UK.

The museum is open 10am to 5pm daily.

For more information visit the British Museum website here.

Image: Two of the glass vessels that have been conserved in the collaborative restoration project, telling a poignant story.

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