Baalbek, Lebanon, 25 March 2019-- In the old tiny alleys of Baalbek, enthusiastic workers dig into the rich caves of what is commonly known as Mogher Tehine, an archaeological site encompassing natural caves and manmade tunnels built centuries ago. The name itself literally means “flour caves” in Arabic, and it was derived mainly from the fact that the stones of the Mogher are chalky in nature and would turn into what feels like wheat flour when fragmented.

“Each corner of these caves has its own tale. In cold days, people would use it as shelter for their cattle: cows, horses, sheep, you name it...” says Khodor, one of the workers overseeing the Mogher’s revival and reminiscing over how the Mogher once looked like back in the days.

“Unfortunately, it’s been 25 years since anyone has used the Mogher and the situation here has been going downhill ever since,” he continues as he painstakingly moves debris to clear the way into the caves.

Mogher Tehine, a site that once catered to the needs of the citizens of Baalbek, soon became more of a curse to the nearby areas. This manmade dilemma first originated when the households nearby began using the Mogher as a sewage dump and a place to toss litter in, creating over the years a heavy unbearable stench that would circulate in the air every now and then.

“People have been suffering for so long from the bacteria and diseases this issue has caused. Babies and young children are getting sick more frequently,” says Omar Solh, Vice President of the Municipality of Baalbek. He adds, “these caves which were once a source of income for families eventually became a disaster to the locals, and this project arrived to save the situation at just the right time.”

Led by UN-Habitat, this project is funded by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and is being executed with full cooperation with the Municipality of Baalbek and the Directorate General of Antiquity. The main aim is to dispose of all sewage discharge and the sludge sprayed all over the site, and to install a whole new sewage system for the neighbouring houses. It will eventually be transformed into both a touristic historical site and a shared public space.

“Now that it has been cleaned, we can see how huge the caves are and how long the tunnels inside are,” says Elissar as she stares from her balcony at the same view that a month ago would cause her shame and distress. “I’m sure that the Mogher will soon become a destination for many tourists visiting Baalbek and the cafes around the corner will be more than happy about that.”

“UN-Habitat has given life back to the Mogher. We have been granted an opportunity to get rid of this problem and alleviate the locals’ suffering, and we are absolutely grateful for that,” says Omar, looking forward to the Mogher coming back to life.