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.
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.
A stroll on the Corniche is not likely to change, ever.
Some of these Ottoman-era homes have been painstakingly restored in the downtown area.
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.
Some are converted like the one pictured below into boutique hospitals.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Its most devoted visitors are retirees who meet to spend pleasant hours playing backgammon.
Pigeons who stop by for a quick bath and a snack of sesame seeds.
and preschoolers who get to play amongst eucalyptus trees centuries-old
In any case, every visitor is afforded the opportunity of a fresh cup of coffee
Along with a ka’ak filled with a spoonful of zaatar
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