An open day was held at the Anglo-American Cemetery (AAC) in Furn El Shebak in an effort to further preserve AUB’s culture and heritage, Lebanon’s natural ecosystem, and the historic Anglo-American relations with Lebanon. Organized by the Anglo-American Association, with members from AUB and the UK and US embassies, the event aimed to promote a new vision for a green, sustainable space in Beirut with a rich cultural and ecological significance within the city.
“This event is to raise awareness around the AAC as a cultural and natural heritage site and promote its future vision as a green urban space and multifunctional landscape that is at once a peaceful place for bereavement, a beautiful garden for contemplation, a place for commemoration, and a conservation site,” said Nayla Al Akl, assistant professor of landscape architecture at AUB whose research interest includes spiritual sites and healing landscapes.
Established in 1913, the Anglo-American Cemetery was originally registered under the British Consul, the American Mission Press, and the Syrian Protestant College (later renamed AUB). Recently reconstituted by the Anglo-American Cemetery Association (AACA), it reflects the diversity of American and British presence in Beirut. It holds graves for prominent personalities from the affiliated institutions, as well as individuals with a variety of nationalities. The first recorded grave is that for Reverend Pliny Fisk, an American missionary who arrived in 1822 and after whom Fisk Hall at AUB is named.
The cemetery is the resting place of the first and fourth presidents of AUB, as well as of several generations and families of educators and administrators at the university who spent their lives working at and for AUB, enduring world wars and serving its community until their demise. Buried at the cemetery is AUB Founding President Daniel Bliss (1823-1916), along with his wife Abbey Wood Bliss (1830-1915) and their son William Tyler Bliss (1885-1927). President of both AUB and the International College at the time, Stephen Penrose (1948-1954), was drafting a new constitution for AUB until the night before he passed. Founder of AUB’s medical school and translator of the Bible into Arabic, Cornelius Van Dyck (1818-1895) is also buried in this cemetery, as are George Post, John Wortabet, Robert West, Pliny Fisk, Henry Harris Jessup, and members of the Porter, Nickoley, Dodge, and Crawford families, among others.
The cemetery is also a site of natural heritage, preserving a paramount landscape of Beirut: the pine forest. It serves as a haven for birds and plants, including native and canonical species that need to be conserved. In the midst of the city’s dense urban neighborhoods, the cemetery provides a green ecosystem and a sanctuary that protects its biodiversity.
The site has undergone stressors since the Lebanese civil war and its upkeep has been faced with challenges. The association is working to restore the cemetery to its proper condition, as a cultural heritage that offers a sacred space of respect for the dead and a source of peaceful relaxation for the living.
“We hope to gain support and funding in order to advance the new vision for the cemetery, and implement a design that promotes social, spiritual, and ecological health,” said Al Akl, who is also a co-founder and administrative member of the Lebanese Landscape Association (LELA) which works to promote and advance landscape architecture in Lebanon and the region. “By transforming the Anglo-American Cemetery into a beautiful and serene sustainable garden for all, we hope to lead by example and encourage other cemeteries in Beirut to do the same in order to promote a healthier urban environment both from a social and ecological point of view.”
Guardianship over the cemetery is currently shared between the British and American consulates, All Saints Church, the International Community Church, and AUB as a founding member, under the auspices of the Anglo-American Cemetery Association.
Following a welcome note at the event by UK Ambassador Chris Rampling where he thanked the audience for attending and encouraged their continued support for the restoration and preservation of this important historical site, Al Akl made a presentation with professor of political science at Notre Dame University, Dr. Eugene Sensenig, of a new vision for reconstructing the cemetery as a green space in the city and looking at its sustainable development for the future.
“Today’s event focused attention on the impact of Anglo-American culture in Lebanon,” said Dr. Sensenig. “It highlighted why it’s important to preserve it and put it in the larger context of the British and American impact in the region of the last 150 years. We plan to launch both an Anglo-American legacy walking trail and a GIS-based online virtual museum to highlight the military, infrastructure, service, and cultural impact of the British and Americans in Lebanon.”
Sensenig added that the Anglo-American Cemetery reflects US and UK involvement in the MENA region over the last 150 years, and is an indicator of their educational, health care, business, and infrastructure projects established in Lebanon.
Safa Jafari Safa <email@example.com>, Office of Communications