The city of Beirut, capital of the Lebanon, doesn’t have that many museums, but one you definitely should not miss is the Robert Mouawad Private museum. It’s a prime example of the eclectic taste of a private collector who loved art, history and all things beautiful.
Some 110 years ago, a prominent Lebanese sportsman, politician and businessman by the name of Henri P. Pharaoun built a fabulous villa in what’s known as downtown Beirut. The villa wasn’t meant to be a museum, but a place to live and entertain. Mr. Pharaoun’s travels brought him in touch with the artifacts and crafts of many countries and he was particularly taken with the elaborately carved wooden panels of Syria. He brought them back and installed them on the ceilings throughout the villa. Getting a stiff neck from staring upwards is a serious danger, because one cannot tear their eyes away from the works of art overhead.
Pharaoun’s taste covered just about everything. He collected Roman and Phoenician marbles and statues which are exhibited in the rooms as well as in the surrounding gardens. They are to be found next to a vast collection of Islamic ceramics, antique books in his library, Russian icons, oriental carpets, paintings and furniture. You name it, Mr. Pharaoun collected it and displayed it in his villa.
After his violent death in 1993, the villa passed into the possession of Rober Mouawad a member of the famous jewelers of the same name. He decided to bring some sort of order into the collection by grouping things – loosely- together without ruining the particular charm a type of collection such as his exudes. He also added part of his own breathtaking jewelry collection to the mix. You can see antique, art deco and modern pieces. Obvious highlights are a 65-carat pear-shaped diamond and the bra, garters and slip annually designed by Mouawad’s firm for the Victoria’s Secret fashion show and is the most expensive piece of underwear in the world.
He opened the villa and gardens as a private museum to the public and he is also an avid sponsor of modern Lebanese artists. That’s why you can see abstract paintings and papier mache dolls sitting right next to centuries old masterpieces. (The modern art is for sale.)
The villa itself is an example of the architectural style of the Lebanon and beautifully kept as is the surrounding garden with gazebos, stone benches and meandering paths, lined by Greek and Roman columns and statues.
The museum is located in Army Street, just off Fakhredine Road and close to the Serail which is the seat of the government. It’s open from 9am till 5pm from Tuesday to Sunday. Admission is LL9 which is approximately $7. You can’t take pictures inside the museum but are free to do so in the garden .If you wish, you can rent an audioguide for $10 and you are left pretty much on your own to admire the exhibits at your leisure as long as you don’t touch anything.
Inka is German and used to be an international attorney with offices in London and Spain. Retired two years ago because I wanted to be a traveler and writer and now live between Didim, Turkey, and Miami with plenty of travel in between. Next destinations: Istanbul, New York and Petra, Jordan.