In what was once the Jewish quarter of Beirut, through a small slit in the metal panel fence, you can steal a peek at the above site.
It sits next to the red-roofed Maghen Abraham synagogue, seen in the background, which I’ve written about here.
As seen in the top photo, the site is bordered on all sides by white and red metal fences:
These were probably erected by Solidere, the company tasked with rebuilding downtown Beirut, which it now calls Beirut Central District (BCD).
In the process of ‘reconstruction’ most of old Beirut was actually bulldozed, including almost all of the Jewish quarter, known as Wadi Abu Jamil. Referred to by old residents as “The Wadi” the area has now been transformed, tabula rasa style, into a gated community of multi-million dollar condos.
Yet during the bulldozing, a number of Roman and potentially Phoenician ruins have been found throughout the area. Archeological digs have been arranged in many cases but some allege that many other ruins have been buried or swept away to make way for real estate profits.
So I was curious about what appeared to be rock formations, particularly the radial ones in center of the site:
Here’s a close up, revealing an interlocking stone wall:
Also to the left side, I noticed a pinkish rock floor and another interesting granite-looking block:
Here’s a close up:
Could these be ancient relics, or just random construction junk?
I decided to get a better view as there was a big opening on the far right edge of the site, marked by a brown gate:
When I walked down there I could clearly see an ancient stone wall. But seconds later, before I could process the image in my mind– let alone reach for a camera– a police officer approached me.
“What are you doing?”
I had not trespassed. I was standing in the middle of a public road at this point, just looking through an open gate.
“I’m just looking at the ruins,” I replied.
The officer shook his head, motioning to me to move away.
“I can’t look at the ruins,” I asked.
“No,” he answered.
“Wow, soon we won’t even be able to ask questions,” I said.
If looking with a naked eye was banned, clearly I wouldn’t dare ask if I could get a picture.
The only other place to look when I got home was Google Earth.
Here is an ariel view. It’s not very clear, but you can see the two empty plots next to the right of the synagogue. The photos in this post were shot near the corner of Wadi Abou Jmiel (sic) and France street, looking across the plots.
If you look closely, you can see that the two plots are cut by a dirt road, which is where I was later stopped for looking through the gate. Just to the right of the dirt road, you can see some vague square formations, which is what I thought could be ruins:
But this is the closest you can get as Google Street View is apparently banned in Lebanon.
After all, who could imagine driving a Google car with mounted cameras around the city if you could almost get arrested for just looking at something for too long.
Update (March 30): Some readers have suggested that ruins on the two plots to the right of the synagogue are linked to the smaller plot on the right, which is reportedly the site of a Roman hippodrome. This would make sense, since, according to Al Akhbar, the hippodrome was 90 meters long and one of the grandest of its kind in the Levant.
On the other hand, ruins sites in Lebanon often contain several layers of history so I’m not sure if the stone wall in the above photos was Roman.
Culture Minister Gaby Layoun, who has approved the controversial demolition of several sites during his short tenure, has also approved construction works on the hippodrome site, changing the protected status that was upheld by his predecessors, according to news reports.