A tribute to Old Beirut

December 24, 2009  • 

Old Beirut versus New Beirut. Old Beirut is rapidly sinking and it is very sad to me. Like they say, on n’arrete pas le progrès! (one can’t stop evolution) and money talks. It was reported in the papers today that Beirut has seen an increase in the value of real estate seven-fold over the last five years. Despite the unstable political atmosphere, people are buying at a premium. Lebanon is very small and there is a limited amount of space available. And it is a beautiful and liberal country.

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In my parents’ library, there is a book on Beirut filled with postcards from the 1800’s onward. What a charming city that was! I regret that these homes that I am showing you are now sparse in the city and taken over by 20-story buildings. There is in Beirut a constant hum during the day: that of cranes and drills. Even on Sundays, construction workers are busy erecting floor after floor. The one (meagre) satisfaction is that our home was built by my grandfather in the thirties and is not likely to be demolished at least during my lifetime.


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A stroll on the Corniche is not likely to change, ever.

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Some of these Ottoman-era homes have been painstakingly restored in the downtown area.

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Most of these homes are left to fend for themselves until their rightful owner decides to demolish them and build a 15-story modern building.

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Some are converted like the one pictured below into boutique hospitals.

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One campus in Beirut that will always remain stately and dignified is that of the American University of Beirut, the oldest American university built outside the United States of America, in 1864.

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The campus of the AUB, with its museum and grounds ( flower and fauna are tagged and repertoried) is a respite from the congestion and intensity of the city outside its walls.

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Some spots are ideal for reflection or marriage proposals (see Leyla‘s comment); and last but not least, cats have taken up residence on campus; fed by charitable cat-lovers, they gaze at the visitor with disdain and indifference.

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I decided to check my old playing ground, a  neighborhood park dating back to the Ottoman period, the only one  in West Beirut, called Garden René Moawad or Sanayeh garden. Threatened with demolition a couple years ago to make way for a parking structure, it was saved thanks to the multitude of protests coming from residents who did not want to see this charming oasis in Beirut disappear forever.

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Its most devoted visitors are retirees who meet to spend pleasant hours playing backgammon.

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Pigeons who stop by for a quick bath and a snack of sesame seeds.

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and preschoolers who get to play amongst eucalyptus trees centuries-old

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In any case, every visitor is afforded the opportunity of a fresh cup of coffee

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Along with a ka’ak filled with a spoonful of zaatar

Comments

16 Comments  •  Comments Feed

  1. Rosa says:

    Gorgeous building!

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  2. SE says:

    Beirut looks so beautiful…Seeing all your posts I sure would like to have it on my list of places to visit !!

  3. Bria says:

    Gosh, that makes me so sad to see the old buildings giving away to the new ones. That happens here in New York. It’s much worse in some neighborhoods than others, of course. It always hurts me a bit to see a beautiful old building torn down and replaced by some crappily-built modern edifice. Ugh.

  4. Murasaki Shikibu says:

    Gorgeous photos. 🙂 Happy holidays. 🙂

  5. Leyla says:

    Hi Joumana,
    Thank you for the photo, the last one is where my husband proposed:)
    It is sad to see the destruction of our history ( family history) specially if you are from Beirut .
    When I go to down town I see my grand father’s store turned into a restaurant and the other grand father’s store do not exist anymore…….. it is sad.
    Something that we can preserve is our Beiruti culinary tradition, I wonder if you know the following traditional Beiruti dishes.
    Arenbeyeh ( kebbeh with tahini sauce and lemon)
    Moufataka( Tahini and sugar and rice and curcum)
    khabissa( corn flour and rice and walnut )
    Enjoy your stay in Beirut 🙂

  6. fimère says:

    Beyrouth est une bien jolie ville, malheureusement je n’ai pas eu la chance de la visiter
    ce qui est triste dans l’histoire c’est de voir le charme de cette ville disparaitre au fur et à mesure qu’on démolisse de vielles bâtisse pour laisser libre à un chantier interminable.
    mais ça reste quand même une très jolie ville à visiter
    à bientôt

  7. dana says:

    Poignant post with wonderful photos. Merry Christmas Joumana! I hope you are enjoying your stay in Beirut.

  8. northshorewoman says:

    beautiful post. your photos and commentary make me realize even more that I saw only a sliver of Beirut while I was there. Everyplace has myriad stories inside of it, and it is through the stories of people who have lived there for centurines that some of those stories surface!

  9. Ann says:

    Wow – you are a one-woman ambassador for Beirut – what a gorgeous place and beautiful pictures. I hope the revitalization really takes place, it must be very sad to see such a pretty place go into ruins…
    Tee hee – I think you have my site misspelled – it is http://www.splitpeArsonality.blogspot.com
    No worries!

  10. Phyllis says:

    Dear Joumana,

    I enjoy your blog, and I was especially touched by this entry; my grandmother’s family came from Beirut, and it was very nice for me to see your pictures and read your tribute. I hope to see visit there someday myself!

    -P.

  11. Martin Giesen says:

    Your Beirut blog brought back some treasured memories and reminded me that its time to go back. Do you know if the old Manara lighthouse has been taken down? I used to do watercolors of the pink house with arcades above the bain militaire.

    • Joumana says:

      @Martin: as far as `i know the house is still there; i think it is one of my aunt’s close friend that lives there, old ladies and stuff; as far as the lighthouse it was hit in 2006 so `i dont think it is functional but `i could be wrong

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    • Joumana says:

      @Christi: You assumed correctly; it does require a ton of work and initially the cost is minimal; when the blog gets a lot of traffic, it is costly because the fee to the web hosting service increases exponentially. Good luck!

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