Tags Posts tagged with "heritage"

heritage

A rare and well-preserved ancient Roman wall that once surrounded Beirut has been dismantled. Photography of the site is not allowed, but from the street, a truck-mounted construction crane can be seen hoisting stones out of the major archaeological site in Bachoura, just off the Fouad Chehab highway that circles around downtown Beirut.

We can see a pile of stones has already been lifted from the site, which contains a rare Roman cemetery,  documented extensively in this previous post.

The sprawling Bachoura site is one of the largest archaeological sites in the city, unearthed just last year, with 250 tombs discovered and perhaps hundreds of relics. Its well-preserved masoleum buildings marked by ornate carved statues, may have been a resting place for important Roman citizens or generals who lived in ancient Beirut, when it was known as the famous colony of Berytus.

The graves, along with the wall and other features could have made for an interesting attraction and archaeological park, as found in many other parts of the world where Roman ruins are discovered. But as previously reported, the area, which borders the Beirut Digital District project, appears to be slated for high end real estate towers.

Here is an image of the site from last year:

And here is a close up on the wall:

We can see that it is at least 10 blocks high and appears to have a built in drain of sorts:

There even seems to be remnants of another structure at the top as seen below. Could it have been a tower or a gate or something else?

Today however, wall has been almost completely cleared as seen in this photo taken this week and there is now little trace of the structure, save for the wood pallets the remaining stones have been strapped onto for removal.

Photo by Max Cochrane

A reader sent me this photo, and was yelled at by site workers for taking it.

What will happen to this wall? Will we see it again, will it be taken to a warehouse to collect dust or will it be discarded altogether?

Remnants of Roman and pre-Roman walls have been uncovered in many parts of the city, but most have been dismantled or destroyed, never to be seen again.

What will happen to the rest of this site, such as the mausoleums and other features, including this interesting ancient drain pipe:

There are also some structures that look like basins and mosaic floors. Here we can see some children playing on the site last year.

Photo: MC

After my initial post last year, archaeologists managing the site appreciated the coverage and invited me for a site visit to help answer some of the questions about its future. But this visit was later rejected by the Directorate of Antiquities, which claimed the project had been paused for discussions with the developer and thus press coverage would be seen as ‘unhelpful’ and could hurt efforts to negotiate preservation. And yet today, absent media coverage the site seems to be disappearing, despite those closed door negotiations that promised to save it.

So why is it that heritage is “negotiated” in Lebanon in the first place and not mandated? Why are the talks with developers secretive, why is media coverage of sites strictly regulated and often not allowed?

Will the site be preserved or will it meet a similar fate as other ancient sites that have been destroyed such as Beirut’s famous Roman chariot race track, its Roman Theatre or the site believed to have been a 2,000 year old Phoenician port that was chiseled away by jackhammers?

For more on these sites, what they have told us about the story of ancient Berytus and what sites remain threatened, see my in-depth report on the cover of last month’s Monocle newspaper, available here.

And stay tuned for more highlights from the report, which was made possible with the support of an investigative journalism grant from Meedan.

 

UPDATE Sept. 17:

The day after this post was published, the Ministry of Culture-which had provided no explanation of the wall removal- issued a “clarification” on the Bachoura site, claiming that coverage by the media of the site was “inaccurate.” But the statement does not point out what info was inaccurate, and actually confirms that the wall and tombs on site date back to the Roman period, which is exactly as stated in the post above.

 

Interestingly, the release does not directly reference the removal of the wall but merely says that all ruins on site will be “merged” and “reintegrated” into the real estate project. There are no details on how this merging will take place. Will the ruins be buried in the basement of a new high rise tower, will they be used as decoration in the tower’s private garden? The release vaguely references the ministry’s abidance by scientific studies, but without noting what these studies say or why the site could not be preserved in its entirety.

According to the Ministry statement: “Based on the scientific reports and technical studies, the Ministry of Culture issued a decision to preserve these facilities by merging them and reintegrating them into the project to be established after conducting scientific and technical documentation according to the principles and under the supervision of the General Directorate of Antiquities.”

What the release does not say is how citizens would be able to access the ruins on a private property or that high end properties do not tend to open their doors to average citizens. Most importantly, the release does not tell us any details on how the decision was made to remove the wall, where it will be placed and why the site could not have been kept as it is, to create an archeological park as one would find in much of the world, when a large Roman complex is unearthed.

The question raised by this post remains: who decides the future of Beirut’s ruins and why are the public and the media not given details about how those decisions are made.

 

“We will find where you live,”  a watchman yelled at me after taking a picture of ruins on his construction site. He had followed me across the street to issue the threat, claiming to have memorized the license plate number on my car. “Wait and see what they will do to you when they come to your house.”

Source: Teloduh

This vast site, believed to be a 1st century artisan workshop (for at least part of its occupation), was uncovered late last year and could help tell the little-known story of Berytus, one of the most influential cities in the Roman empire.

Source: L’Orient Le Jour

 

Instead it is scheduled to become a glass skyscraper, serving as the headquarters of a private bank, SGBL (Société Générale de Banque au Liban).

 

The skyscraper is being designed by the famous Italian architect Renzo Piano, one of many celebrity architects transforming Beirut’s skyline with high end real estate towers worth billions of dollars and far out of reach of most Lebanese people. Piano is also designing the massive 160,000 square meter Pinwheel Project, which consists of a series of hotel and condo towers in the heart of downtown, as well as a city museum project, which is also to be built atop of a ruins discovery.  

Source: RPBW project conception

Sadly the type of violent threats and harassment I experienced is not unusual when attempting to document the wonders of the ancient world being unearthed for the first time in contemporary Beirut.  One would assume that a 2,000 year old site is one the entire country should be able to see, to learn from, to explore, to be inspired by, to build a sense of place, pride in preservation or national belonging. But in Lebanon, history can be private property. Several journalists and activists have been threatened or physically attacked for documenting the impact of real estate projects across the country.

To appease critics, some investors have recently pledged to preserve very limited sections of ruins, displayed decoratively as part of their real estate projects or concealed in parking garages. Yet these are often placed out of context or difficult for visitors to access and comprehend.  In the case of the Piano project, can the design of such a large building possibly preserve the vast vista of ruins beneath? Can the design be changed in any way meaningful enough to communicate its significance and that of ancient Berytus?

Upon closer view, we can see the interesting rock patterns in the walls. What do they tell us?

At the top corner of the site, the stones are entirely different, much larger and better carved, resembling grand Roman structures. Was there an important building near this site?

Most importantly, will the public ever get a chance to experience this piece of the puzzle of a city and great civilization we are just beginning to understand? With large walls surrounding the permiter, as seen in the photos above, passersby are not allowed even a glimpse of it.  (Photos in the post were taken from other buildings or openings in the wall.)

At any rate, the site might not be around for much longer.  Clearance may be closer than we think. In photos taken a few months ago, we can see nearly 20 tents set up in the dig:

Photo: Timo Azhari

But today there are only a few tents left, meaning the archeological teams may have largely packed up and left:

Is this why the developer is so aggressively keeping it off limits to the public? The site workers must have been threatened themselves if anyone is allowed to get a photo out.

It’s unclear if the diggers have already started to clear the area or penetrate to deeper levels as their position has changed since I first began documenting the site earlier this year.

Compare this image taken in January 2018:

To this photo taken from the same vantage point in recent days:

In addition to the removal of tents, we can also see the position of the two bulldozers is further into the site than they were early this year.

Here’s another shot from January 2018:

And the same vantage point today:

From a closer perspective, we can some of the amazing wall detail on the left section:

So what to make of the threats issued to me for taking these photos? They were taken from the public street, from the sidewalk, at a brief moment when the door to the site was open. There is no legal basis for banning photography in public space. There is no basis in banning the Lebanese public from seeing their own history.  But who was the man who threatened me and why?

The owner of SGBL bank is known to surround himself with those capable of serious violence. His bodyguards have regularly engaged in alleged criminal acts, including armed assaults and even a shootout in nightclub, according to news reports. In 2015, a bodyguard formerly employed by the owner stabbed a man to death in broad daylight, and was subsequently sent to prison. Is this the type of violence and threats that a Pritzker-winning architect like Renzo Piano would like to be associated with?

Interestingly, SGBL itself claims to be “a strong advocate of culture and arts in Lebanon,” according to its website. While Piano, who has been involved in several projects across Beirut has said: “Cities are beautiful because they are created slowly; they are made by time. A city is born from a tangle of monuments and infrastructures, culture and market, national history and everyday stories. It takes 500 years to create a city, 50 to create a neighborhood.”

In fact, the city of Beirut has not been developing just for 50 or 500 years, but for thousands of years and several millennia. Would it be too much to dream that Piano and SGBL live up to their stated ideals? Since both Piano and SGBL have profited so generously from Beirut, could they possibly give something back by preserving a bit of its illustrious past for the coming generations to enjoy?

 

 

What had been one of the most beautiful and historic buildings on Jeanne d’Arc street will soon be gone. Here’s a picture of it from January:

Jan 2017 (Before)

And yesterday:

Sept. 2017( After)

The demolition was well under way last week and it probably won’t survive much longer.

The Jeanne d’Arc building is/was just a couple of blocks up from the American University Of Beirut, a few streets from busy Hamra street.

Jan 2017

You could still see one of the arched window on the lower floor yesterday. Some say it will become a parking lot:

Sept. 2017

Elder neighborhood residents told me the building was easily over 100 years old. This would have made it one of the oldest in Hamra, where most development accelerated in the 1950s and 1960s. Before that Hamra was largely an agricultural area, a far cry from the urban density today where barely a tree can be found. Can you imagine how it might have looked, surrounded by orchards and greenery?

Jan. 2017
Sept. 2017

The door is still in tact too, but probably not for long:

Behind the building along Sidani street, there were three other old buildings, seen here in a photo I took for a post three years ago:

Dec. 2013

Almost all of these have also been demolished:

Sept. 2017

The block had already been in a poor state when I saw it, perhaps abandoned for decades:

Dec. 2013

But still quaint and worth restoring, one would think:

Dec. 2013

Now there is little left but the tree:

Sept. 2017

And the tree growing out of one building– compare to top photo. The tin door overhang is still there:

Also notice the turret-like stones on the building behind it. I’ve seen this on some old Ras Beirut buildings and not sure if it was decorative or part of the structure.

All the buildings are made of sandstone, which is supposedly protected by heritage laws:

Some said one of the buildings had been used as a school in more recent years, which seemed evident from some of the debris:

And the wall paintings:

I also noticed a number of roof tiles salvaged from the rubble:

They had a cool bee imprint:

Upon closer look, you can make out the name of the manufacturer: “Guichard Carvin & Cie” made in “Marseille St. Andre”

A quick internet search revealed these to be produced as early as the late 1800s.

Source: Mario

Can you imagine these tiles survived over 100 winters? I wonder how long today’s roof tiles last?

Another thing they don’t make like they used to is landscaping. Even though this decrepit block is falling apart, it is still the greenest place on the street, which is now full of concrete high rises:

Most people probably know the block by the old photo shop. A lot of things in the area seem to use ‘palladium’ including an old cinema not far away.

Questions remain. Why was one of the oldest buildings in the neighborhood not protected? What type of heritage laws allow the most historic building on one of the city’s most historic streets to be razed without a trace? Where was the Ministry of Culture and the Municipality of Beirut?

This could have been a rare opportunity not only to preserve a single building out of context, but an entire block, frozen in the early part of the century.  Whether as a community garden, small museum or even refurbished shops or apartments, it could have been a chance to protect a sliver of old Hamra at a time when much of the neighborhood’s architectural identity is gradually being erased, replaced by methodic glass and concrete structures that can be found anywhere and devoid of detailed craftsmanship.

While it stood, this block was a faint reminder of where we came from: the urban heritage and the social fabric that laid the foundation for what would become one of the city’s busiest neighborhoods.

But that window on the past is rapidly fading. And it’s being filled with rubble and concrete.

Always take pictures of old Beirut buildings. You never know when you will become an accidental archivist.

 

Beirut activists are fighting hard to preserve two of the city’s key heritage sites and you can support them by attending a series of events they have prepared this week. The events are actually FREE (another endangered thing in Beirut) so all you have to do is show up. Scroll down for full schedule. 

Following several years of pro bono organizing, lobbying, researching and fundraising, volunteer urban activists have managed to put two Beirut sites on the list of 50 endangered sites worldwide as listed by the World Monument Fund’s Heritage Watch Day. To bring public and media attention to these rare surviving spaces, they have put together an impressive schedule of art exhibitions, films, music, food, cultural, environmental and educational events around Watch Day.  Follow the Heritage Watch Day Facebook page for updates.

The two endangered sites are Dalieh of Raouche peninsula, the only remaining natural headland in Beirut with a 7,000 year history; and Heneine Palace, one of the largest and only remaining buildings from the 1800s left in the city today.  Both sites are threatened by private developers. Both sites are part of vanishing historic neighborhoods. Both sites tell a story-a million stories- about us, our ancestors, our city, our country, our humanity. Both sites need your support, your pictures, your social media posts, your feet on the ground, to demonstrate that these places are important, valued and popular enough that demolishing them will cause a public uproar. 

A mega seafront project was planned for Dalieh,  but activist multi-pronged legal, design and research efforts have helped slow that. Meanwhile Heneine Palace is located in the heart of one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods, Zokak el Blatt, which is rapidly being erased by glass towers, gentrification and real estate barons. Neither site is safe however, and activists need all the volunteers, voices, shares and feet they can get.

It all starts with an opening this Thursday at 4PM at Antwork (located on Spears road across from Future TV just before BarBar on the left) where you can pick up fliers and more info. It is followed by an exhibition at the ministry of tourism hamra exhibition space (yes activists are taking over the ministry, peacefully this time).  Other events will be taking place in Mansion (take a right after Bar Bar spears and head up the street with old mansions falling apart– it’s the yellow old mansion still in one piece. )

Here’s the full schedule below the map. Tell your friends, your cousins. Bring your mother. Scroll down to the end of post for event posters and GIFs at the end. Share, share, share.

Thursday, May 18th

  • Official Watch Day Launch and press conference for Dalieh and Heneine
    4:00pm, Antwork
  • Dalieh Exhibition launch
    6:00 pm, Glass Hall, Ministry of Tourism. The exhibition will continue until the 27th of May
    The work of the winners of 2015’s Dalieh Ideas Competition “Revisiting Dalieh: Calling for Alternative Visions along Beirut’s Coast” will be displayed alongside the work of universities, students and artists engaged with the coast.

In Zokak el-Blat

  • Screening of Jocelyne Saab’s movie, “A Suspended Life”
    7:00pm, Orient Institut

Friday, May 19th 

In Dalieh

  • Revealing of site-specific art interventions in collaboration with Temporary Art Platform. On view until Sunday May 21st.
    All day, Dalieh
    Thin White Line (Ieva Saudargaitė Douaihi), Dalieh’s Infinity Pool (Raymond Gemayel), The Flag (Omar Fakhoury), 4’50 (Omar Fakhoury)  Partially Occupy Darkness (Ghassan Maasri), The Invisible Soundtrack (Nadim Mishlawi), On the Same Wavelength (Pascal Hachem and Rana Haddad), Washzone (Mustapha Jundi), Kunsthalle 3000 (Thomas Geiger). 

In Zokak el-Blat

  • Exhibition launch: Zokak el-Blat Experiments – Heneine Palace and Other Possibilities
    Mansion, 9:00am to 9:00pm daily, until the 21st of May – Launch at 7:00pm
    Includes a virtual tour of the Heneine Palace – Models produced by school students during heritage workshops – Architecture projects produced by university students from USEK – Screening of film “Mapping Place Narratives: Beyhum Street” – Heritage situation overview by Save Beirut Heritage

Saturday, May 20th

In Zokak el-Blat
Celebrating Heritage: Heneine Palace and Zokak el-Blat (12:00pm – 8:00pm)

  • Souk el-Tayeb in Zokak el-Blat
    12:00am to 7:00pm, Hussein Beyhum Street
  • Guided Tours of Zokak el-Blat
    First departure at 3:00pm, last departure at 6:00pm.
    A tour takes around 1:30
    Meeting points: Grand Sérail, Al-Hout Mosque, National Evangelical Church
    A fewer number of tours could be provided on Sunday 21st
  • Readings, organized by the International Writers’ House in Beirut
    6:30pm to 8:00pm, Mansion
    Readings by Fadi Tofeili and Mounzer Baalbaki, followed by a debate
  • Exhibition: Zokak el-Blat Experiments – Heneine Palace and Other Possibilities
    Mansion, 9:00am to 7:30pm, until the 21st of May

In Dalieh

  • Candle-lit night vigil from Ramlet El Baida to Dalieh
    Meeting point at 6:30pm in front of the ‘Eden Rock’ project in Ramlet Baida
  • Open Air Film Screening of “Children of Beirut” by Sarah Srage
    8:30pm, Dalieh

Sunday, May 21st 

In Dalieh
Dalieh Festival (11:00am – 8:00pm)

  • Site-specific Interventions / Music and dance performances / Food Market by Souk el-Tayeb
    All day
  • Boat Tours with Dalieh’s Fishermen
    Every hour and a half, First departure at 11:00am., last departure at 5:00pm., from Dalieh’s port. Reservations and name registration on the day at the Dalieh info booth
  • On site Tours by members of the Dalieh Campaign
    Every two hours, First tour at 11:00 am, last tour at 5:00pm
    Meeting point and registration on the day at the Dalieh info booth
  • Speakers Corner
    12:00 am / 2:00pm / 4:00pm
    In several locations on Dalieh
  • Music & Spoken Words
    6:00pm-8:00pm
    With Ziad Itani, Jebebara, Zeid Hamdan, Tarek Bashasha & Zakaria Al Omar, Saseen Kawzally, Michelle and Noel, and many others

In Zokak el-Blat

  • Literary tour, organized by the International Writers’ House in Beirut
    10:30am to 12:30pm, in Zokak el-Blat, meeting point at the Bachoura Cemetery
    A walk of the neighborhood during which Fadi Tofeili will comment, from passages of his books, the places that he mentions in his writings.
  • Guided Tours of Zokak el-Blat (To be confirmed)
    First departure at 3:00pm. A tour takes around 1h30
    To be confirmed – Number of tours to be determined according to attendance

Feel free to share. Hashtags are #WatchDalieh #WatchHeneine

Use of Dalieh is believed to date back to the copper age (5,000BCE) and the site is also reportedly mentioned in ancient Greek myths.

Animated GIF  - Find & Share on GIPHY

 

 

 

Screenshot of video via Jad Ghorayeb

 

A number of images are appearing on social media today documenting the demolition of one of Lebanon’s first major factories and reportedly the oldest brewery in the Middle East.

Photographer Jad Ghorayeb posted this video this afternoon on Facebook:

Demolition has begun.. @ "Laziza Grande Brasserie du Levant"

Posted by Jad Ghorayeb on Monday, March 27, 2017

 

Activists tell me the demolition of the old Laziza brewery in the very dense working class Beirut neighborhood of Mar Mikhael could cause public health problems, as well as long term gentrification effects driving up the cost of living, and thus indirectly evicting residents and small family-owned businesses that have existed for generations.

Photo: L’Orient Le Jour, posted Oct. 2016

The old sign has recently been removed, seen in this picture taken his morning:

And scaffolding went up last week:

So why is this happening, and if local residents are not a priority, who is?

Capstone Investment

The Laziza brewery, established in the early 1930s, will be demolished to create luxury flats by famous Lebanese architect Bernard Khoury, known for his exclusive nightclubs and appartments, affordable by a tiny fraction of the population.

According to the developer, Capstone Investment Group, the site will become “Mar Mikhael Village”

“Mar Mikhael Village entails the conversion of an old brewery into chic and trendy Lofts that exemplify contemporary city living in the hip area of Mar Mikhael.”

On his website, Khoury makes the argument that the height of the floors make it impossible for residential housing, lamenting its loss. He says a “ghost” of the building will be preserved, bringing back the sign and creating a small homage to part of the facade, dwarfed by a new massive superstructure.

Bernard Khoury website
Bernard Khoury website
Bernard Khoury website

Khoury says the demolition is “unfortunate” but inevitable: “The project’s relationship with the memory of its predecessor no longer lies in the mummification of the edifice that was to be recuperated, but instead rests on the acknowledgment of its unfortunate demolition, the tracing of its now-absent morphology and the poetry of its vital disappearance.”

But was a luxury residence really the only possibility here?

A piece that recently appeared in L’Orient Le Jour takes issue with Khoury’s comments, and questions their self-serving appearance. The piece argued that architects and investors bear a responsibility to the city beyond lip service and lamentation. Here is an excerpt translated from French via Google:

“But if the building is not suitable for housing, then the will to build should not be used as an excuse to demolish it. The problem does not lie in the inability of the Brewery to adapt, but in the choice of program which is unsuitable. Other programs, cultural, commercial, leisure, could indeed have been imagined there.”

The building should be preserved in its entirety and in all its parts whose composition is exceptional, witness of its rich history. But if it were nevertheless to concede to the financial reality, it would have been possible for example to preserve the central building and to allow itself to build on the rest of the ground. Real estate in Beirut is one of the most profitable in the world and even if this share of the 13,500m2 building is not exploited, the project will remain largely profitable.”

Yet this story is not just about the brewery but also the broader Mar Mikhael neighborhood, one of Beirut’s best preserved, and the dozens of developments and mega construction sites that are taking a toll on residents:

“The heritage situation in Beirut is indeed catastrophic: delusional real estate, absence of Masterplan, an obsolete heritage law that is struggling to be replaced by a modern law, blocked by politicians … As a result, demolished historic buildings and traditional neighborhoods Disfigured.However, the area where the Grande Brasserie du Levant is located is largely preserved and is a rare chance to preserve a historic quarter for the future. Such a massive project, replacing such an iconic building, is a violent act that will only initiate the disintegration of this precious urban fabric.”

Important questions raised by this project

What do local residents think of what is happening to their neighborhood? Why are their views rarely heard and why is the conversation on these mega projects frequently narrated by super wealthy real estate companies and starchitects? Why are people who own so much dominating a conversation over people who have barely a place to live?

How will projects like this one effect the residents health and livelihoods? What sort of pollution do these projects entail? How do they affect air quality, traffic, road closures and ability to do business? Do they also encourage other projects that will have similar effects, bringing more cars and pollution to the neighborhood?

Who are the developers, who owns Capstone Investment Group and what are there intentions, not just with the brewery but elsewhere in the city? Do big companies like this give back to the city, in terms of taxes and local development, or are the profits largely tax free?

What is the role of law and regulations? Are there laws to protect residents, average citizens living in the neighborhood? Do they have any rights to having their homes and livelihoods protected? Or were the laws and zoning regulations written to protect developers, who are often politically-connected elites?

What is the role of the ministry of culture? Some have said the previous minister opposed this project, has something changed? What about the urban planning departments, the municipality of Beirut, architecture and engineering syndicates? Are these government and professional bodies speaking on behalf of the country and the public or do they work in the interest of the powerful and well-funded?

Activists are planning to organize around this project so I will have more updates and background as it  becomes available. Any insights from readers, residents, old photos, etc would also be appreciated.

 

UPDATE:

A few hours after this post went up, a reader pointed out that there are actually two sets of plans for the “Mar Mikhael Village.” Although Bernard Khoury’s website and the Capstone Investment website both feature designs that incorporate part of the old brewery facade, Mar Mikhael Village also has their own website and Facebook page, where there is no sign of the old facade. In it’s place at the bottom center of the illustration, is a darkened, tilted modernist structure that has no resemblance to the original brewery:

And instead of the brewery sign, we have a similar shaped sign that reads “Mar Mikhael Village”:

Did Mar Mikhael Village just pull a fast one on us? Or are these old pictures? What happened to Bernard Khoury’s poetic “ghost” metaphor?

Also how did a single apartment complex already garner almost 14,000 likes on Facebook since it launched a few months ago?

UPDATE 3:

Photographer Jad Ghorayeb has just posted a beautiful set of photos of the brewery’s interiors. It’s hard not to imagine the potential for a community space, library or cultural venue:

How often do we find a 1930s factory with spiral staircases?

Or a space that recalls an industrial and national heritage that is long forgotten. Thanks to the developers, any potential for reviving it will now be fully erased, replaced by an exclusive gated community. See more photos from Jad’s full album posted on Facebook and also be sure to follow him on instagram for more of his stunning heritage photography.

12400897_10156402643715576_6835515679670299461_n
Source: Campaign to save Red House

It seems everywhere you turn in Hamra, there is a new tower coming up. None of them affordable so most are empty. The old storefronts and casual street life marked by locals chatting on the sidewalks and old men pulling up plastic chairs becomes replaced by large metal gates and car garages: no loitering, no spontaneity, no sense of community is sanctioned by unregulated private capital keen on exclusive luxury property development.

What will remain of Hamra and Ras Beirut when every old building is torn down? Will it become just any other prefabricated valley of towers, with no sense of history, community or architectural identity? What will happen to the rest of Beirut if there are no authorities capable of protecting any semblance of heritage? Where is the Ministry of Culture?

Such questions are now being raised by the campaign to save yet another condemned building known by its residents as “Red House,” part of which reportedly dates back to the 18th century, which would make it one of the oldest homes in Hamra.

12522971_10156402643710576_1748343023933198701_n
Source: Campaign to save Red House

The campaigners say the Directorate General of Antiquities has drafted a report to save the home, but according to this article the report has sat for several months without a signature from the Culture Minister Rony Araygi.

12509841_10156402643795576_7771217107861121569_n
Source: Campaign to save Red House

Instead the current renter, architect Samir Rubeiz– who says his family has occupied the second floor of building for three generations– says they have been served an eviction notice to vacate within 10 days, ending on January 22. The eviction notice, they say, specifically mentions demolition.  (See bottom of the post for updates and reaction from the owner)

Rubeiz’s family has started a Facebook page and encourages visitors to take pictures and publish them to share the story. I am told some activists are now trying to reach the minister and there has been some scattered press coverage. But public participation may be needed as well if this house is to be saved unlike the infamous demolition of the Maalouf house despite promises by a previous minister and an outcry by some activists.

12400956_10156402643745576_2469596109813253762_n
Source: Campaign to save Red House

In addition to posting pictures and sharing this story, you can also contact the minister on Twitter.

Here is an interesting video about the house, underscoring the broader issue of the neighborhood’s disappearance in favor of well-heeled real estate interests.

For a sense of the context in which this potential demolition is taking place see these photos from Al Modon news site:

Screen Shot 2016-01-17 at 6.19.50 PM

Clearly the Red House stands alone, the green spaces and other homes that may have once surrounded it are now paved with parking lots and condos. Can this lonely memory of the neighborhood be saved?

***

UPDATE:

A decendent of the owner of the home has posted a rather terse response to those sharing this story, noting that the tenant, Samir Rubeiz, is a “leech” and simply using heritage as an excuse to keep renting the home at a cheap rate. This is presumably because of old rent laws that have recently been controversially amended allowing potential evictions across the city. However the status does not make any mention of what the owner plans on doing with home and whether or not she thinks it should be kept or demolished. I have reached out to her to get a clarification and will publish one if she responds. Here is her comment in full:

I am responding to the numerous posts about the Red House in Hamra. I would like to inform those who have shared comments and articles about the house that it belongs to MY family. My grandmother Marie Abdo Rubeiz raised my father Georges Rubeiz and my uncle Michel Rubeiz in this house. My uncle Michel who is now 90 years old still lives in it. My siblings (Nelly and Abdallah Rebeiz) and I spent innumerable hours in this house when we were children.

Samir Rebeiz, who is behind the historic designation campaign that you are spreading around in your posts, has been renting at no cost in MY FAMILY’S HOUSE for decades and has repeatedly refused to vacate OUR PROPERTY unless he receives a very significant sum of money. This real estate conflict is the only reason that Samir Rebeiz wants to “save” the house: so that he can continue to live in it indefinitely for free. My family has been going through hell in the Lebanese courts to resolve the never-ending saga with this leech. There are many details that the public is not aware of, but it is unequivocal that Samir Rebeiz is doing this out of self-interest only and not to preserve a historic house. In fact, just a few hours after my father Georges Rubeiz (who served the Lebanese and specifically the Ras-Beirut community for decades as a cardiologist at AUB) passed away one month ago, the honorable Samir Rebeiz couldn’t get to the appropriate government agencies fast enough to report that my father had died in order to reverse potential court rulings against him. This was right after he offered his condolences to my family.

I hope that this clarifies the situation of the “Red House in Hamra” for all of you.

UPDATE 2:

I’ve spoken to the tenant’s family for a reaction and they say they have already begun to vacate the home and have no interest in staying. “We just want to save the home,” a relative told me, showing stacks of boxes in the living room ready to be moved. The relative hoped the home could become a cultural or museum space. The relative also noted that while the rent has indeed been low, Mr. Rubeiz has invested in maintenance work, which contributed to the DGA report valuing the building’s preserved architectural features. The family would also like to emphasize that they don’t intend to be in conflict with the building owners and instead focus on the need to preserving the structure and they encourage supporters to do the same.

UPDATE 3:

Blogger Elie Fares has compiled a history of the Red House, underscoring it’s political significance, and particularly that of its female occupants who helped build the careers of certain politicians during Lebanon’s early modern history. There is even a visit by Louis Armstrong! See Elie’s post here.

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If you hurry, you might be able to get a glance of this historic facade before it is gone.

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The demolition is taking place on a small alley next to the Phoenicia hotel called Hyram street, behind the hotel’s security barricades, where few may have noticed it.

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Luckily, I was there a few weeks ago, and fearing the worst, I took some pictures. Here is what it used to look like:

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Finally here’s a view from the top street:

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The building seemed to be in pretty good shape, considering the circumstances. So why was it not preserved?

If anyone knows more about it–the building’s age, owner, legal status, architecture, etc.– please comment below and I will update the post.

And remember, always take pictures of old buildings. You never know when your images could be the last ones.

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UPDATE 28/11/14

One day later and the building is almost completely erased:

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Interestingly, one commentator below noted that the previous structure would be “completely rebuilt” by a firm called “Nabil Azar Builders Design Consultants.”

Yet a quick look at the renderings of the new building on their website reveals in fact only one facade will be ‘rebuilt,’ but even this will differ significantly in terms of arches, balconies and the entrance. See photos above for comparison:

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Courtesy Tom Young

Next week, Beirut’s storied “Rose House”, which sits on a rare green hill overlooking the Mediterranean, will be open to the public for the first time. The artist Tom Young will be showcasing his work and hosting a series of events beginning next week. He sent me these pictures:

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Young hopes to shed light on the 19th century building, which he feared would be destroyed after learning that its long term tenant of 50 years, Fayza El Khazen, had been asked to leave. So he got in touch with the new owners and convinced them to allow an exhibit, featuring musical, theatrical, film events and activities for children, in addition to some 40 of his painted pieces.

Dubbed, “At the Rose House” the exhibit will run from November 19 until the end of December 2014. Young will also be sharing what he has learned about the history of the home during his two month artist residency there, particularly its importance as a cultural meeting place during the 1960s.

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“I’ve been exploring the house’s context in the city, drawing inspiration from the forest of towers which surround it, and nearby landmarks such as the old lighthouse and Luna Park,” Young said an email. “These places are anchors in the city’s soul.”

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“Rise and Fall” by Tom Young from “At the Rose House” Beirut

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Here’s a video Young has made about the project:

And here are some of the paintings that will be on display:

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“Survival” by Tom Young from “At the Rose House” Beirut
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“Zones” by Tom Young from “At the Rose House” Beirut
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“Age of Innocence” by Tom Young from “At the Rose House” Beirut
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“Arches Mirage Wall” by Tom Young “At the Rose House” Beirut
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“Interior Erasure” by Tom Young from “At the Rose House” Beirut

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Young developed a similar exhibition last year at another abandoned mansion in the Gemmayze neighborhood known as Villa Paradiso. The hope is that art can help us celebrate, remember and perhaps even save some of these buildings, which are being rapidly destroyed across the city to make way for multimillion dollar towers only the wealthiest can afford. But such efforts can only succeed if concerned citizens attend in large numbers to make their voices heard. So spread the word and see you there!

 

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For more info about the exhibit, get in touch with Tom via tom@tomyoung.com and his Facebook page.

All photos courtesy Tom Young

Exhibit opening hours: Tuesday to Saturday 11am-7pm, open until 10pm on Fridays

 

 

 

The Civil Coalition Against the Boutros Highway is hosting a panel and discussion this Tuesday on the battle against the $75 municipality-led project that will cut through one Beirut’s greenest neighborhoods. The speakers include architects, urban planners and activists leading the campaign to create a park instead of the 1.3km road that will destroy several historic homes, including one of the last remaining terraced farm in the city. 
The event will take place this Tuesday August 26 at 11:00AM at the lush garden space that is threatened by the project. 
 You can join the event page on Facebook and find out more about the speakers in the invite below. (Click to enlarge)
For background on the legal battle against the project, and the questions raised about its transparency and the impact it will have on the neighborhood, see this in-depth piece on the project in The Daily Star and blog posts about the recent protests from local residents and activists.  
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Credit: Rayya Haddad
Credit: Rayya Haddad

Earlier this summer I posted pictures taken by my photographer friend Rayya Haddad of the extensive ruins discovered near the Bank Audi building in downtown Beirut. But recently Rayya went back to the site and it seems to have been partially cleared. Compare the recent photos above taken to the ones below taken about two months ago, when the ruins were just unearthed:

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The arches were extensive, perhaps revealing a building or a series of rooms or small structures. (See previous post for more pictures.) The structures had reached right up to the construction walls filling in the far corner of the site:

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But when I was recently walking by the excavation–which will reportedly be the new headquarters for another bank– Bank Al Mawarid–I noticed the arched structure seemed to be gone. I took these shots when the door was briefly open:

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Here is a closer view of the far corner of the site:

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Of course it is hard to tell without having a good aerial shot, but the retaining wall columns do not seem obstructed by any ruins, which were flush up against them in previous shots.

Ruins are usually dismantled when developers want to start building or the archeologists want to go to a deeper level. If we look closely, it seems that another type of ruins have been discovered with much larger stones:

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The larger, bolder-like stones are usually seen in Roman structures, as opposed to the arched area in the top photos, which used smaller pieces and may have belonged to a much later Ottoman or Islamic era site.

In Rayya’s shots we can also see these big stones, which are almost the size of the yellow generator:

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So have the ruins been dismantled to reach another, ‘more important’ layer? Or are some of them buried under the sand? Were parts of the structure removed altogether?
If the deeper, big rock ruins are Roman, could they have been associated with the nearby theatre and hippodrome complex, as covered in previous posts.
Whatever the case, these questions will be hard to answer due to the strict no photos policy enforced by the government’s antiquities department. And even if the deeper ruins are judged to be more important, should the public have been able to see the site, even if only for a few days, before it was cleared to go deeper or make way for the new building?  More importantly, will any of this part of ancient Beirut remain before another bank is built here?
Thanks to these leaked original pictures, at least we can see what the mysterious arched structure looked like online if not in person.