Lebanon

What remains of old Beirut

Most of Beirut's old buildings have already been lost to war. But today, the Lebanese capital's remaining architectural heritage is up against a new enemy: developers. Read more...

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A traditional house in Beirut destroyed to make way for modern buildings. Photo by Elias Arayess, posted on the Save Beirut Heritage Facebook group.

Most of Beirut's old buildings have already been lost to war. But today, the Lebanese capital's remaining architectural heritage is up against a new enemy: developers.

Demolition of old buildings is a daily occurrence in Beirut, where high-rise flats and car parks are taking over the city.

In 1995, then-Minister of Culture Michel Eddé managed to halt the demolition of over a thousand old residences thanks to the recommendations of the Association for Protecting Natural Sites and Old Buildings in Lebanon (APSAD).

Unfortunately, this decision also sparked a fresh wave of demolitions, as owners who became concerned about further government regulation had their properties razed in order to be able to sell the land on to housing developers.

In response, the government went against the recommendations of APSAD and declassifying around half of the old buildings that were meant to be listed as protected. By 1998, that number was halved again, leaving just 209 buildings out of the original 1016 safe from the risk of demolition. 

In 2007, the Lebanese government proposed putting forward a law to save the endangered buildings, but this has not yet been addressed. Nevertheless, a number of associations are now campaigning for the law to be passed.

Photo taken by our Observer Maha Awada, in late June 2010 in the Zkak el-Blat disctrict of Beirut.

Old buildings brought back to life

A fully restored and inhabited building.

Rue de Bliss in the Hamra shopping district of Beirut. Photo posted on the Save Beirut Heritage Facebook group.

Photo taken by Mahmoud Safadi, posted on the Save Beirut Heritage Facebook page.

Photo taken by Gabriella Romanos, posted on the Save Beirut Heritage Facebook group.

Between dilapidation and modernity

Photo taken by Joe Challita in the Mar Michaël district. Posted on the Save Beirut Heritage Facebook page.

Abandoned building in the Zkak el-Blat district. Photo taken by our Observer, Maha Awada, in June.

Derelict building in Zkak el-Blat which dates back to the French Mandate of Lebanon (1920 - 1943). Photo taken by Alik Ohanian, posted on the Save Beirut Heritage Facebook page.

High-rise flats tower above an old house.

An old building on Rue de Damas next to a projection of what's to come. Photo taken by Lars Seiler, posted on the Save Beirut Heritage Facebook page.

"A piece of useable land can sell for a crazy amount, resulting in a mass of 'plot for sale' signs"

Maha Awada (lebma), 28, works for a shipping firm in Beirut.

It's heartbreaking to see bulldozers tearing down our traditional homes every day. A few days ago I walked through the Zkak el-Blat district, not far from my home, to see what was left of the beautiful architecture. The grandiose houses there were built by Beirut's bourgeoisie, and Lebanese singer Fayrouz [who was born there in 1935], attracted writers and poets to the neighbourhood.

In 1995, 94 buildings were listed in Zkak el-Blat. But in 1998 that number was slashed to 40 and even out of those, four have somehow been demolished. Today, most of the old buildings are generally not lived in and are becoming derelict; some of them are already up for demolition.

This has come about because there's so little land in Beirut that can be built upon. A piece of useable land can sell for a crazy amount, resulting in a mass of ‘plot for sale' signs. What makes matters worse is that most of the developers buying up the land are foreign."