On the pages of this newspaper, I read a report about the re-development of the National Museum of Damascus…I visited this museum more than ten years ago, and I have longed to witness such changes, with the treasures of Syria being exhibited in a manner commensurate with their unparalleled beauty and historical significance.
The National Museum of Damascus is one of the oldest museums in the Arab world – after the Egyptian Museum in Cairo – dating back to 1919. The archeological treasures and antiquities on exhibit were discovered throughout the country by Syrian and foreign archeological teams; these include antiquities from the prehistoric age, ancient Syria, and the classical period which includes Greco-Roman antiquities.
As for the prehistoric antiquities on exhibit at the museum, there is a group of stone tools that date back to ancient times. Some people might not be aware that my secondary interest, after Egyptian archeology, is Palestinian and Syrian archeology, and I have studied the archeology of this era under a great archeologist who dedicated himself to archeology and history. I am, of course, talking about the late [American archeologist] James. A. Sauer, who was known for his support of Arab causes.
There are [also] ancient Egyptian antiquities on exhibit at the National Museum of Damascus – as well as the Beirut Museum – the majority of which dates back to the reign of King Ramses II. This indicates that there was a cultural exchange and relations between the two most powerful civilizations of the time, 2,500 years ago. The National Museum of Damascus details Syria’s history since the beginning of written records until the arrival of Alexander the Great, and after this the museum tells the story of the Greek and Roman period of Syrian history, and later the rise of Islam until today. What is surprising is that the manner in which the National Museum of Damascus displays its exhibits is set to change, and this will now follow the manner in which antiquities are displayed at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. The reason for this can be traced back to the Italian side, who decided to exhibit our [Egyptian] antiquities in a manner that included a complete and comprehensive explanation about the exhibit itself, as well as how these antiquities were discovered. In other words, to allow the museum patrons to see these antiquities as they were when they were first discovered, and this is something that transforms a museum into a cultural and educational beacon. This new style of exhibiting antiquities will also be seen at the National Museum of Damascus, and this is something that distinguishes museums in the Arab world from museums in Europe and the US. This manner of exhibiting antiquities requires a special method of lighting and presentation, and I am certain that no museums in the world can compete with us in this.
Therefore I hope that Director of the National Museum of Damascus, Dr. Hiba al-Sakhl, begins scientific and cultural exchange with other Arab museums so that we can compete in this field…and so that we can offer enjoyable archeological [educational] programs to get to know our civilizations, and how these contributed to the world at large.
In the past, we were at the forefront of civilization; carrying the torch of cultural and scientific endeavor…will we be able to return to this position?
This is up to all those who are working in the educational and cultural fields in our countries…the way is long, but we must begin with knowledge and hard work in order to build a grand future.