Ever since the year 6,000 B.C., there has been a historical city that was powerful enough to impose its name on historical records and its rule upon large surrounding districts and areas. Sidon used to play the role of a military maritime base as well as the trade center of an enormous network of communication and links for a ceaseless movement of peoples and goods in the Mediterranean.An excavation of Sidon began in 1998 in partnership with the British museum for the sake of research and documentation of the city’s ancient history. It is only the second urban excavation to take place in Lebanon after Beirut.
The excavations have recently proven that origins of the Caananites from DNA tests done on remains from recent excavations. Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Hinxton, U.K., extracted enough DNA from the ancient skeletons to sequence the whole genomes of five Canaanite individuals, all around 3,700 years old. This is another milestone in documenting Sidon’s urban history and is continuing its work as an “archaeological park” remaining as evidence of the importance of the city for the ancient Canaanite and Phoenician peoples. Moreover, a historical museum will also be built over the archaeological site to exhibit all the historical excavations and ruins within international standards.
Such a historical city has been evolving and expanding over the surrounding areas and hills beyond the downtown district until we reached nowadays the current shape of Sidon’s old city, a historical city that covers an area of 20 hectares and about 6.6 percent of of metropolitan Sidon.
Sidon’s public image is largely associated with the old city, the historical core of the city, with its ancient archaeological ruins and historical sites. The architectural heritage of Sidon is largely concentrated around and inside the old city. It includes the Crusader castles, old souk, traditional haras, churches, mosques and Ottoman khans, palaces and hammams. All such sites presented Sidon as a model of diversity in terms of religion, with Islamic, Christian, and Jewish sites all present in the city, in addition to the civilizations that have lived in or passed through Sidon, leaving an impact on its architecture.
However, we can’t neglect the city’s socio-economic aspect, which has been evolving throughout history to turn into an urban poverty pocket and an enabling environment for social problems such as drug addiction, child labor, violence and other forms of poverty and armed conflicts. Such chronic problems have invaded all historical alleys and sites to overshadow all the historical and touristic aspects of the city. However, the old city of Sidon has been resistant and resilient through all the historical phases it passed through, and despite, the surrounding modernity it is still a living urban heritage site that embodies the city’s collective memory and history.
Nowadays, the young generation has been witnessing numerous attempts to distort the image of Sidon through security disturbances and armed conflicts that are designed and triggered every now and then, and the socio-economic problems, mainly poverty, are hitting the city and its historical core.
However, there is a political will to see this city rise and remain standing with peace and resilience.
While Sidon has been facing armed conflict and destruction of its social networks and cultural heritage, initiatives and practices in the recent years prove the political will and determination to enhance the social and cultural practices in the city and promote them as an integral part of the city’s character and identity. This is the ideal way to voice out at the national and international level that Sidon is a resilient city which has no space for hatred and armed conflict. It is worth studying how the political will is always able to mobilize the community for reconciliation and development against destruction and in response to armed conflict.
Sidon is focusing on its untapped and inaccessible cultural heritage resources, and the community with all its constituents collaborating and partnering to implement projects that unleash the cultural potentials of the city.
With the support of the city’s Parliament members and the Sidon Municipality, a group of young ladies dared to “make it happen again” and organize “Sidon International Festivals 2017” despite all challenges and obstacles.
They are 12 active women working hand in hand to achieve the common goal of celebrating the social cohesion of the city and its cultural assets.
As the sounds of armed conflict from the Ain al-Hilweh camp filled the air these women have been conducting meetings and preparations with enthusiasm to counter the violence with majestic nights replete with musical performances and entertainment.
This is proof that Sidon’s image is what its people decide it will be regardless of what is happening around them. The Sidon International Festivals Committee’s members are comprised of Sidonians who are genetically resilient and resistant. The 12 ladies are thrilled to send their messages locally and nationally to state that Sidon’s role shall be as its golden age, a vibrant city that plays an integral role in its surrounding. The ladies will be kicking off their festivals with a touristic night Saturday at 6 p.m. from Khan El-Franj with musical performances.
Khan El-Franj, Audi Soap Museum, Khan Sacy, Debbane Palace, Outreach & Leadership Academy (Hammoud Palace) are opening their doors for people to come and discover the old city’s alleys and haras and enjoy the musical performances in each site. This is the core developmental aspect of the festival that lies in highlighting the city’s main historical sites and brand them as functional sites for cultural heritage. The committee has also implemented certain upgrading and developmental interventions in the old city that will contribute to the upgrade of the old city. The majestic touristic night will be followed by three concerts from Sept. 6 to 8 that will feature Shirine Abdel Wahhab, Music Hall All Stars in Concert and Guy Manoukian.
Sidon is a city that still has its social and cultural practices and has discovered that reviving them is the main driver for change and development. It made it happen last year with a festival despite a lot of challenges and obstacles, and will make it happen this year with more determination and intransigence within more complex circumstances. History has shown resilience and social links in this city are structured factors in the city’s modern history that have been accumulating for several years and can’t be distorted but celebrated loudly. Thus, Sidon will not only make it happen but will make it happen in style.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 26, 2017, on page 3.