TYRE, Lebanon: The air is filled with the sound of hammers removing the thin layers of cement encasing centuries-old sandstone structures in Tyre’s old souk. Painters and electricians bustle to finish their work.
Delayed since February due to the coronavirus pandemic, the third phase of an extensive restoration project aiming to conserve the ancient’s city’s heritage has restarted with renewed vigor.
Tyre municipality head Hasan Dboub said the heritage project had been a long journey, one he hoped would attract tourists and locals alike to explore the history and culture of one of the world’s oldest cities, said to date back to 2750 BC.
The project is financed by the French Development Agency, the Italian Development Agency and the World Bank – under the supervision of the Council for Development and Reconstruction and relevant agencies like the DGA.
The project’s first phase included the archaeological site of Al-Bass, the Roman Hippodrome and various archaeological sites within the city, including historic squares, heritage houses and ancient streets which were rehabilitated.
The second phase targeted the Imam Musa Sadr Square and the fishermen's marina, which was rehabilitated to make it more tourist friendly –with paving stones, sidewalks, street lighting and parking lots installed.
The third phase is focusing on the old souk and Mahfouz Street, a main street in Tyre, with the aim of restoring both the facades of dozens of stores, balconies, home entrances and infrastructure – ranging from sewage and rainwater extensions to drinking water and lighting.
The inner street of the old souk, known as the Khan al-Ashkar area, will also be rehabilitated toward the Qasabi Market, parallel to Mahfouz Street, and an area near the seafront, where travelers formerly rested their camels while visiting the city.
“The development projects of Tyre are a dream for us. I consider them an image of a new era with ancient heritage,” said Ghazwan Halawani, from the Tyre Merchants Association. “These improvements will revive the economy and inject smaller productive projects into it.”
“For 35 years I’ve worked in this market, waiting for the completion of the restoration and modernization work,” said clothing store owner Sadiq Safi al-Din. “It has been delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, and we thank everyone who offers Lebanon aid and progress.”
Previously a dilapidated ruin, this part of western Tyre now boasts people walking and cycling along the seafront. Local residents express appreciation for more renovated pedestrian areas, making it easier to get around these areas and appreciate the city’s heritage.
“We can see the beauty of the city through these projects,” said Tyre resident Muhammad Saad. “It is a beautiful thing to be able to visit the heritage buildings on foot and walk through streets that lead you to ancient sites and markets.”