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Beirut, Archaeological Museum of the American University

What is the best archaeological museum in the world? If size matters, it’s not unreasonable to mention the Louvre and the Archaeological Museum of Istanbul. For art historical impact, go to the Vatican. The quality of the information? Maybe the museums of Berlin. Or the Archaeological Museum of the American University in Beirut.

This comparatively small museum cannot boast that it owns very famous works of art, but nevertheless, it is very interesting. Take, for instance, the display of Chalcolithic objects, which explains the differences between the Hassuna, Samara, and Halaf styles; next to it is a display that helps you understand Naqada. When you look at the display of ancient glass, you will also see a picture of a fresco from Rome’s Villa Farnesina that helps you understand how those small phials were used. This is not a museum for art lovers, but for archaeology students who have to learn how to recognize the ancient cultures.

Among the objects I liked were a nice bronze statuette of Reshef; two fish-shaped jugs from Byblus; some Phoenician inscriptions; a fine black bust of a pharaoh of the twenty-fifth dynasty; a nice dromedary (Persian period); a splendid Greek philosopher; busts from Palmyra, and a large mosaic from a Byzantine church, ‘said to be from Beirut’, which made me wonder how you could possibly forget where you discovered a mosaic of twenty-five square meters. Some objects – like milestones, inscriptions, and a sarcophagus – can be seen in the garden.

In short, this museum is almost perfect. If I have to express a wish: I would have liked explanatory signs that told where objects had been found, or indicated that this was unknown.

There is something odd about this place. Even though admission to the museum is free, and although it easy to find, we found ourselves the only visitors, except for the cleaner. This is undeserved, because this is an archaeological museum of exceptional quality. Photography is not permitted, but you can ask for a permit.

This museum was visited in 2012, 2013.

This page was last modified on 27 March 2014.