Fourteen-year-old student Khalil al-Sebai stood in the courtyard of Beirut's National Museum gazing at the huge statues and artefacts in amazement.
"I used to read in history books about all the civilisations that passed through Lebanon with disbelief," he said. "Today, after seeing all the antiquities in the museum that tell the story of Lebanon's history, I realise it was all true."
On May 27th, the museum celebrated the 70th anniversary of its opening. The event was organised by Biladi, a non-profit organisation dedicated to promoting Lebanese heritage and antiquities to students. The celebration was accompanied by the launch of the museum's website.
Groups of Lebanese school children participated in the celebration and took part in many cultural activities, such as a puppet show and an appearance by storyteller Sara Kassir. Artist Nasser Makhoul also displayed musical instruments that he designed and that were inspired by the instruments depicted in some of the artefacts.
Some of the more prominent items on display included Ahiram's sarcophagus, the statue of the goddess of health, the alphabet, blown glass, and Roman sarcophagi.
"The museum displays 1,300 artefacts of various sizes out of thousands available in storage," museum curator Anne-Marie Ofeish told Al-Shorfa. "We are waiting for funding to restore the other artefacts and expand the museum so they can be displayed. We have a restoration study prepared, but it needs funding for implementation, something that is not available in the Ministry of Culture's budget."
Ofeish said the museum missed the era of technological advances that occurred during the last 20 years.
"We have been trying since 1995 to hold activities with help from the National Heritage Foundation and the Biladi organisation and recently launched a website that informs the public about the museum in a modern way and features four films on selected artefacts," she said.
Archeologist Joanne Farchakh Bajjaly, president of the Biladi organization, said she hopes to raise the number of featured artefacts on the website to ten.
"What we do falls within the framework of the organisation's goal to introduce our heritage and antiquities to children in an entertaining and informative manner so that the National Museum would become an essential part of their memory," she said.
Mona al-Hrawi, president of the National Heritage Foundation, said the foundation plans to hold a concert on September 4th to raise funds for the construction of a performance hall behind the museum that can hold 200 people for cultural and artistic performances.
"During the event, we will hold a live auction featuring the work of Lebanese artists with the proceeds going to the museum because we are all involved in supporting the museum which preserves our history, heritage and future," al-Hrawi said.
Raymond Weill, a French officer stationed in Lebanon, laid the foundation for the museum in 1919 with artefacts he discovered in Beirut. In 1923, a committee was formed to build a national museum in Beirut with a pharaoh-inspired architectural design.
On May 27, 1942, President Alfred Naccache inaugurated the museum in a ceremony attended by Charles de Gaulle of France. Its doors remained open for visitors until 1975 when the Lebanese civil war began.
When the war ended in 1991, the National Heritage Foundation, in co-ordination with the Ministry of Culture's Directorate General of Antiquities, launched a restoration workshop to renovate the museum. The facility reopened its doors for good in 1999.
The museum is one of the biggest museums in the Middle East based upon the number of antiquities it contains, some of which dating back to 3200 BC and the Bronze Age. It has artefacts from a number of periods, including the Iron Age, the Hellenistic era, the Roman era, the Byzantine era, and the Arab conquest up until the Mamluk period from 635 to 1516 AD.