The Silphium Plaza after the war, 2020.
Blog Post

Sowing Seeds of Hope

The Silphium Plaza after the war, 2020.

The World Monuments Watch selection panel process is a rigorous, thoughtful one, based on debate, reflection, and consensus. In parallel to WMF’s three global priorities (climate change, imbalanced tourism, and underrepresented heritage), the decision-making process seeks to identify the projects and sites where WMF support can make a significant difference.

Benghazi, Libya, and Beirut, Lebanon, both on this year’s Watch, are two Middle Eastern cities that have recently witnessed extensive damage: the first due to civil war (2011–2017); the second due to a horrific explosion in 2020. In both cases, the Watch will support the rehabilitation of public spaces in cities whose residents have almost lost hope.

Pre-war Benghazi, despite the dictatorship of the Gaddafi regime, was for the most part a well- maintained, tranquil place of treelined avenues and open spaces. The temperate evening climate enabled a tradition of families and youth enjoying each other’s company in public squares. Ice cream parlors, a testament to the cultural legacy of former Italian rule, both prolonged and sweetened these informal social encounters. The current project to rehabilitate the central Benghazi square will reinstate the space for social interaction and private reflection. It will work with a local community group to restore gunshot- riddled buildings around the square and revalorize shared space. In doing so, it will bring back the spirit of old Benghazi and plant a seed of hope in those too young to remember the city’s pre-war days.

Beirut is known for an enviable entrepreneurial resilience resulting from its history of rising phoenix- like after a long civil war (1974–1990). Unfortunately, it is currently at a low point due to a weak economy, and the devastating recent blast was, for many, a cruel last straw. Many of its bright minds are making concerted efforts to emigrate, despondent with a city they see as being beyond physical, political, and economic repair. WMF’s support, focusing on local recovery and long-term protection of historic building stock, is about working with community groups to empower them to transform a part of their city. The project aims to demonstrate that these groups can make a difference by working collaboratively, despite a fragile governmental infrastructure. The hope is that such a project can help mend a collective broken spirit and trigger a multiplier effect of community investment in a social, if not a financial, sense.

In both heritage cities, WMF hopes to demonstrate, as per an old Beiruti saying, that a city destroyed a thousand times can be a thousand times reborn.