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Network Stories: Alia Fares

The Lebanon Mountain Trail Cultural Heritage Project

The mountains of Lebanon contain hundreds of archaeological and ancient cultural heritage sites dispersed between its valleys, on mountain tops, next to riverbeds and amid far away villages. In 2007, the Lebanon Mountain Trail association was created to protect and promote a 470 km hiking trail extending along this mountain range. Along this trail one can visit many of these discrete sites off the beaten path, varying between ancient roman temples, byzantine churches, rock-cut tombs, medieval silk factories, antique oil and wine presses and many more ancient gems. To understand its immense cultural heritage, an initial project was developed in 2015, in order to complete a full database of all the sites. A catalogue was developed, becoming in turn the basis for future archaeological scientific study in collaboration with the DGA, the Lebanese General Directorate of Antiquities. Sites were studied according to their endangered status, future recommendations were suggested and preservation techniques were developed with an educational task – creating cultural heritage awareness in the 76 villages found along the trail, leading to many economic opportunities in those communities in the tourism sector. The initial archaeological purpose became a tangible one, relating ancient stones with present humans once again. The project became a collaboration with the local communities of the mountains, empowering them in turn to feel responsible for their heritage, to preserve it for future generations to come.

Until today, only 20% of the archaeological and cultural heritage sites along the trail have been surveyed. Many of these sites are beginning to disappear or fade away, while municipal stakeholders and ministries have little to no budget, often forced to tackle more urgent issues in their communities with their available funding. To create further awareness for protective measures, additional cultural heritage strategic policies at municipal level as well as supplementary educational awareness tasks need to be implemented. The initial aim of creating a hiking trail that crosses the country from North to South was developed into a series of large-scale projects requiring the involvement of every stakeholder of this value chain for it to succeed. Therefore, the Lebanon Mountain Trail Association is in continuous need of financial support in order to achieve its final goal, of protecting and preserving the priceless environmental and cultural heritage of Lebanon.

After having participated in the executive leadership workshop in Athens, I have been able to acquire a much better perspective on how to tackle funding strategies for our heritage project. Thanks to the valuable tactical and extremely well organized presentations of our training mentors, I began to obtain a clearer sense of how to increase our funding possibilities. The workshop also enabled me to demonstrate my own ideas through a series of discussions, improving my policies in the process. We also were also able to benefit from the diversity of case studies that were introduced by other participants in the workshop who came from around the globe and introduced their projects. The cooperative atmosphere and the resulting collaboration between the various contributors led to a truly successful training.

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