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.

He nodded.

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.

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Habib Battah
Habib Battah is an investigative journalist and founder of the news site beirutreport.com. Battah has covered Lebanon and the Middle East for over 15 years and teaches journalism and media studies at the American University of Beirut. He is a contributor to Monocle, The Guardian, BBC World, Al Jazeera and others, a former fellow at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University and two-time recipient of the Samir Kassir Press Freedom Award. Battah's investigative work was recently recognized for outstanding local reporting by the Columbia University Oakes Award for Environmental Reporting. Battah earned a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Texas at Austin and an M.A. in Near East Studies and Journalism from New York University.

2 COMMENTS

  1. The oppression imposed in Lebanon, is depressing. While all countries in the world, are walking to evolution and progress, Lebanon sadly walks towards the time of the caves.
    Not being able to look, or photographing ruins, public buildings, among other things, has been so common as oppressive.
    I love your work, keep doing your best, and let’s hope that the mentality in this country, urgently, pass through a dense and deep process of evolution, because living under the dictatorship of oppression, in the 21st century, it is unacceptable!

  2. you’re lucky to reach that far! usually they’d stop you near Bank Audi.The area happens to be at a proximate location of former PM Saad Hariri’s house.
    Anyway, your article did not provide us with any new info unfortunately. All Lebanese know that you are not allowed to take photos in most of BCD, let alone near a PM’s house. What i hoped you’d provide is some research concerning this plot to clarify the nature of these ruins. Moreover, what are Solidere’s plans for the Synagogue? there are many institutions in Lebanon that would’ve helped you…Al Akhbar are doing a great job on the matter.

    Regards,
    Lebanese architect.

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