On August 4, 2020, the double explosion at the port of Beirut damaged the manuscript room and the cold storage room of the photo library of the prestigious Oriental Library of the Jesuit St. Joseph University. The restoration is now complete, the library officially reopened on March 14, 2022.
Located in the Christian quarter of Achrafieh, near the port area, the three-story building had been seriously affected by the explosion. “By a miracle, there were no injuries, and the precious collections were suffered no damage. But the damage was considerable. The final bill is more than $500,000,” explains Carla Eddé, vice-rector of the University.
This renovated neo-Romanesque building was designed in 1937 by Rogatien de Cidrac (1909-1997), former chief architect at the French Ministry of Reconstruction and Urban Planning, architect of civil buildings and national palaces.
Created by the French Jesuits and at the origin of the St. Joseph University of Beirut, the collection of the Oriental Library has been enriched over the course of its history. Today, it consists of approximately 225,000 books, 1,800 titles of journals and periodicals, 3,700 Arabic manuscripts, 250,000 documentary photographs and nearly 2,000 geographical maps of the Middle East.
The photo library “has a collection of around 250,000 photographs currently being inventoried and digitized, in optimal conservation conditions,” explains its director, Levon Nordiguian.
“This collection is an invaluable source of documentation not only for the history of the Jesuits, but also for that of the countries where they exercised their apostolate, i.e., Syria, which then included Lebanon, and the Armenia historical site now located in Turkish territory,” he said.
Among the marvels of the Oriental Library, may be found the Poidebard collection, named after the Jesuit pioneer of aerial archeology, Fr. Antoine Poidebard (1878-1955), newspapers from the beginning of the Arab press in the 19th century, and even lithographs in the Syriac language, currently being catalogued.
Since 2000, the Oriental Library has been the property of the Society of Jesus. However, it is managed by St. Joseph University and open to the public. With its reading room, its photo library, exhibition hall, and amphitheater, the library is a real cultural and research center, a vital mission for Lebanon, which is currently going through a serious socio-economic crisis.