beirut: sursock museum reopening

© 2015 joe kesrouani - the spectacularly lit sursock museum by night

perched on a hill in beirut’s leafy achrafieh neighbourhood, the sursock museum – a much-loved gem in the city's cultural landscape – has deservedly regained the limelight after having been closed for many years of extensive renovations. initially opening its doors in 1912 as the residence of prominent banker and art collector nicolas ibrahim sursock and his family, the ornate grandeur of its white marble façade gloriously defies the bland, towering presence of a residential multi-storey building that has been erected right next door in more recent times. during his lifetime, sursock recognized the need for institutional support of artists in lebanon, and left his mansion to the city of beirut as an art venue upon his death in 1952.

however, it took almost a decade before the sursock museum actually welcomed any visitors. the trajectory of this renowned venue runs parallel to beirut's rocky history. after playing a pivotal role in the development of the city's cultural scene right after its inception, the venue was forced to close down by a ravaging civil war [1975-1990]. a second closure, initiated in 2008 was less lengthy and had a more beneficial nature, as the it was decided to modernize and dramatically expand the premises – mind you, it has increased from merely 1,500 sqm. [16,146 sq.ft.] to 8,500 sqm. [91,493 sq.ft.] – with the aim to meet modern standards and put the museum on a par with renowned art institutions abroad.

the groundbreaking works, supervised by architects jean-michel wilmotte and jacques aboukhaled, have been thorough, while also meticulously executed with full respect of the building's original architectural features. from a strictly spatial perspective, sursock museum now boasts four added floors beneath the garden, a lofty, special exhibition hall which can accommodate large artworks, two identical spaces a.k.a. the twin galleries that function as a single exhibition space, a research library dedicated to collecting, preserving, and studying local and regional art historical resources, a 168-seat auditorium, and last but not least, a state-of-the-art museum workshop with climate-controlled storage spaces.

anticipating today's inextricable link between art and modern lifestyle, a new detached wing of glass and steel accommodates a well-stocked gift shop and a sophisticated dining spot with outdoor terrace. the latter facility is headed by joanna debbas, a well-known chef and hospitality entrepreneur who has whipped up a menu full of tasty mediterranean dishes, richly infused with lebanese ingredients and flavours, and a compatible range of beverages and desserts, and has already become a fave meeting place of well-heeled beirutis. the sursock museum has reopend with no less than four different exhibitions, each shedding light from a different angle on lebanon's rich cultural legacy. location: rue archevêché grecque-orthodoxe [achrafieh].

© 2015 nabû productions [interior photos] + aref el rayess - hommage au tapis volant - acrylic on canvas [1965] - courtesy of the museum