United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)

                             And some philatelic considerations on its third session in Beirut 1948

UNESCO is a specialized agency of the United Nations (UN). Its purpose is to contribute to peace and security by promoting international collaboration through education, science, and culture in order to further universal respect for justice, the rule of law, and human rights along with fundamental freedom proclaimed in the United Nations Charter.

The General Conference is the main body of UNESCO. The General Conference determines the orientation and the general line of the organization. It meets annually in ordinary session during the fourth quarter. The seat of the session changes each year.

Untitled-1The first session of the conference was held in Paris in 1946 while the second session was in Mexico in 1947. During this second session of the UNESCO, the General Conference unanimously accepted the invitation of the Lebanese Government to host the third session in Beirut.

The opening date of the session has been set at Wednesday, November 17, 1948. It is expected that the work of the conference will end on December 11, 1948. The congress was chaired by Hamid Frangieh, Lebanese Minister of foreign affairs.

1- A local post-office:

For the purpose of the General conference, a post office is open room 809 in the basement of the building 8, every day except Sunday. Usual transactions will be held at this bureau: Sale of stamps; postage of correspondence; air mail; mailing…

Concerning Mail-arrival:

Mail sent to delegates to the UNESCO-Beirut address will be given from Beirut post-office to the inner mail service that will distribute it by messengers to the offices of delegations.

As for Mail – departure:

The Lebanese Government granted the postal franchise to the Secretariat and delegates to the General Conference for the official letters, they must be handed over to the postal service which will affix a special cancel on these letters. Private correspondence may also be handed over to the post office and usual postage rate is applied.


2 – Philatelic aspect

On the occasion of the third session of the General Conference, Lebanon post office issued a series of eight stamps. Three models have been specially designed for the General Conference:

(a) “Orient”: three figurines; postage value: 7.5, 15 and 20 Lebanese piastres.

(b) “Beirut”: two figurines; postage value: 35 and 75 Lebanese piastres.

(c) “Europe”: three stamps: postage value: 10, 12.5et 25 Lebanese piastres.

(a),(b),(c) were designed by P. Koroleff and printed by Imprimerie Catholique Beyrouth

The complete set costed two Lebanese pounds those days.


On the occasion of the Millennium of Avicenna:

Given the importance of the scientific and philosophical work of Ibn Sina, known under the name of Avicenna, and the next celebration of its Millennium, the General Conference recommended to Member States that his works in Arabic and Persian are translated and disseminated. On this occasion, Lebanon post-office issued a series of 2 stamps:

(d) “Avicenna”: 2 figurines; postage value: 30 and 40 Lebanese dollars.

(d) was designed by M. Farrouk and printed by Imprimerie Catholique Beyrouth.

Lebanon also issued an imperforated souvenir sheet regrouping the ten stamps mentioned above. All these stamps were issued on November 23, 1948.


Souvenir sheet

Envelopes were also printed with the UNESCO heading to commemorate the event:


Different headings found on European or American size covers. With or without the “PAR AVION” mention.

Untitled-7A European size FDC – 23/11/48

3- Topic of UNESCO stamps

It surely wasn’t easy for Koroleff to choose a design that reflects the international side of the conference and to promote culture. The inspiration came from the Mediterranean sea and its mythology. Owing to its privileged geographical position, Lebanon was always considered as a bridge connecting east and west. This is why we find on this issue of stamps the word UNESCO (to remind the conference) but also simply and subtly the names of Beirut (host city), Europe (considered to be the origin of Western civilization) and Orient (a generic word that regroups the diversity of the East).

Untitled-8This stamp represents Apollo riding the chariot of the sun across the sky to bring the light of day in the lands of the Earth.

The use of Apollo, as sun-god and god of light to represent the East is subtle. The sun rises from the east and one of Apollo most important daily tasks was to harness his four-horse chariot, in order to move the Sun across the sky. Note that the stamp only depicts a two-horse chariot.

Apollo, like other Greek deities, had a number of epithets applied to him, reflecting the variety of roles and duties. This diversity makes him a complex god a bit like the east part of the world ?

Untitled-9This stamp represents the abduction of Europe, a Phoenician princess from Tyr, by Zeus.

The mythographers tell that Zeus was enamored of Europa and decided to seduce or ravish her, the two being near-equivalent in Greek myth. He transformed himself into a tame white bull and mixed in with her father’s herds. While Europa and her helpers were gathering flowers, she saw the bull, caressed his flanks, and eventually got onto his back. Zeus took that opportunity and ran to the sea and swam, with her on his back, to the island of Crete. He then revealed his true identity, and Europa became the first queen of Crete and named the continent Europe after her name.

Untitled-10Lebanon issue in 1948 was not the first country to depict this topic (Europa abduction):

Crete issued on Feb 15, 1905, a stamp featuring Zeus as a Bull abducting Europa, from an ancient Cortyna coin. Later on The European Union has also used Europa as a symbol of panEuropeanism ( earliest stamp in 1966 from Spain)

Some examples on non-Greek stamps:



Untitled-15Her name appeared on postage stamps celebrating the Council of Europe, which were first issued in 1956:

Other occasions depicting the topic: celebrating the Lebanese World Union in 1971 by Lebanon postal authorities or in 1999 when France issued a stamp to honor Lebanese cultural heritage.


Untitled-16The mosaic depicting the abduction scene is dating from the Roman era (II-III century AP. J.C.). This mosaic pavement was found in a villa of Byblos North of Beirut (the current Jbeil).

This mosaic was presented in October 1998 at the Institute of the Arab world in Paris

Untitled-17This stamp depicts Minerva, a Roman goddess. As patron goddess of wisdom, Minerva frequently features in statuary, as an image on seals, and in other forms, at educational establishments.

Berytus (Beirut) was famous for its law school, which was founded by the Roman Emperor Septimius Severus in 200 A.D, and was the first school of Roman Law in the eastern Empire. The law school existed until the destruction of the city by earthquakes of high amplitude followed by a Tsunami around 551 A.D.

The fame of the law school was, amongst others, due to the fact that two famous jurists and natives of Phoenicia were professors at the law school, namely Papinian (140 – 212 A.D) and Ulpian (died 228 A.D).The works of these two jurists fill up more than one third of the compilation of Roman Law, commissioned by the Emperor Justinian in the sixth century A.D.

Because of the legal importance of this city, Emperor Justinian gave it the title Berytus Nutrix Legum, Beirut the mother of laws.

Note that the moto written on the stamp is inverted: Berytus Legum Nutrix

To the best of my knowledge it’s the first time that this error is pointed out!

Untitled-18This stamp depicts Avicenna, the prince of physicians, brewing herbs.

Avicenna (980-1037) was not only a physician, but also a philosopher, poet, and even a statesman. Avicenna was a prolific author on different subjects. His masterpiece was Qanon –el Tebb (known in the West as: Canon in Medicine). The Canon has been translated in different languages and was the core of medical curriculum of European universities in subsequent centuries. To this day, the Canon remains the most impressive book in medicine ever written.

More than 25 countries located in the Middle East, Africa, and Europe have honored Avicenna on their postage stamps. The symbolic value of Avicenna has been chosen to commemorate scientific occasions, achievements, and anniversaries. But Lebanon in 1948 was the first country to honor him by this stamp issue.

Collecting stamps related to Avicenna can lead to an impressive collection, nearly as impressive as a Louis Pasteur related topic collection. I must mention though that Louis Pasteur (1822-1895) was a chemist and microbiologist and not a physician!  He is famous for his breakthroughs in the causes and prevention of diseases.  He is best known for the invention of the process used for treating milk and wine to stop, often deadly, bacterial contamination:“Pasteurization”!

Untitled-19Latest acquisition in 2013: Portuguese miniature souvenir sheet commemorating 1000 years of the Avicenna Canon. Stamp issued on August 29, 2013.



Fadi Untitled-20