Tags Posts tagged with "Lebanese war"

Lebanese war

Before and after pictures were at the heart of the project to rebuild downtown Beirut following the Lebanese war. These images filled the pages of promotional material, coffee table books and photography exhibits hosted and commissioned by Solidere, the private real estate firm that undertook the project. Some of these images can still be found displayed at the airport today, 25 years after reconstruction began:

Credit: Ayman Trawi
Credit: Ayman Trawi

Even holograms have been made to showcase the transformations.

But then there are the before-and-after pictures you don’t see-those that cover the vast majority of  neighborhoods in the old city reconstruction zone, which were not restored but demolished.

Take this image that was recently uploaded to Facebook by Gabriel Daher. (If you like old Beirut buildings, you should definitely be following him.)

Photo: Gaby Daher

You might recognize the large Capitole building on the right, a former cinema that still stands today and is more recently known for hosting nightclubs like the now defunct Buddah Bar and its current rooftop lounge. The Riad Solh statue would later occupy the empty space in the corner, which seems to be still under construction here.

While Capitole–and the corner building just left of it (formally used by Pan American Airways) are often seen in old photos of the city,  what is less often seen is the neighborhood in the foreground.

Here is another shot of the neighborhood as posted on the same Facebook thread by another great archivist, Kheireddine Al-Ahdab. This time the perspective is from above the Capitole building (left) revealing a large swathe of buildings across the street, bordering the Lazarieh tower on the far left.

Al-Ahdab identified this neighborhood to be known as Ghalghoul. So what happened to it?

I was able to track down this photo of Ghalghoul from 1991. Many of the buildings appear to have survived the war:

Photo: Rene Burri

But during reconstruction, the entire area was eventually leveled.

In this picture from 2013, we can see Ghalghoul has been reduced to a series of parking lots. All that remains is the double arched building in the photo above. Its blue canvas roof now replaced with red tiles.

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The big hole in the foreground was supposed to be a mall but that project was stopped when ruins were found on the site and a public pressure campaign began not long after photos of the excavations were leaked to the public. You can read more about those discoveries here.

In this shot we can see that the Capitole building on the far right has been restored, but now faces a large void where Ghalghoul once stood.

Dozens if not scores of buildings were razed, leaving barely any trace of the neighborhood.

Here is an aerial view showing the extent of the destruction in between El Amir Bachir street and the Fouad Chehab highway ( Route 51) and in between Syria street and Cheikh Toufik Khaled-nearly all flattened as parking lots.

In fact the only time Ghalghoul saw life again in the postwar period was during the protests of 2006-2009, when a tent city was established in its parking lots by opposition parties calling for the resignation of the government.

Photo: Richard van der Graaf

I tried to find more about Ghalghoul but the only results seem to be images of its destruction shot in the early 1990s, such as this 1995 series by Fouad Elkhoury. Many of the buildings were still standing:

Fouad Elkhoury

Until the bulldozing began:

Fouad Elkhoury
Fouad Elkhoury

It’s often said that more of Beirut was destroyed by the bulldozers of reconstruction than through the shelling of the war. In fact, some 80 percent of the old city was reportedly demolished under the Solidere plan. So while there are plenty of pictures of the 260 odd buildings that were restored, you won’t find any trace of the hundreds of buildings that were leveled, entire neighborhoods and streets erased, not only in Ghalghoul but everywhere large parking lots are found today such Martyr’s Square, Saifi, Zeitouni and others. Wadi Abu Jmel, Beirut’s old Jewish quarter is among these. I was lucky enough to document some of the last buildings and meet the Wadi’s last resident before she died in this piece a few years ago for Al Jazeera.

How many other untold stories are out there from people and neighborhoods that were left out of Solidere’s vision?

If anyone has any memories of Ghalghoul or other razed neighborhoods, please feel free to share in the comments below and I would be happy to update the post.

 

 

 

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Beit Beirut, Lebanon’s first memory museum, is finally getting ready to open its doors. After at least a decade in delays, restoration work on the war-ravaged early 1900s apartment building (which became a notorious sniper’s nest during the civil war), is now completed.

You may recognize it from the outside as the swiss-cheese looking building in Sodeco formerly known as the Barakat Building:

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Late last month, a few officials and architects were invited to see the completed work, which contains four levels of exhibition space, two auditoriums and a gorgeous panoramic rooftop terrace.

The old building seen above is now complimented by a new glass structure on the backside and the two are joined by a central open-air atrium, which now takes the place of the old inner courtyard:

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At the bottom of the atrium, a glass skylight lets light into the ground floor lobby, via a circular ceiling window:

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Here is a shot of the lobby from the opposite perspective, revealing the spiral staircase that runs throughout the museum:

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At the center of the lobby floor, another circular window allows the atrium light to run continuously down through to the basement:

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… which is home to the large auditorium:

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The chairs are arranged in near concentric circles around the podium, where officials from the Beirut municipality gave self-congratulatory speeches:

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But the real star of the show was architect and activist Mona El Hallak, who has been lobbying to save the building since the 1990s when it was days away from demolition.

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For nearly two decades, El Hallak has researched and archived the Barakat building’s storied history and fought against real estate interests to preserve it as a cultural space–a tireless effort that earned her a medal of honor from the French government, which helped fund the project.

The architect, Youssef Haidar, thanked Mona prominently at the outset of his remarks. Oddly enough, outgoing municipal council members failed to make any reference to her work, although alluding vaguely to the contributions of “civil society.”

Following the remarks, we were allowed to roam the space freely. Although it retains thousands of bullet holes, graffiti and blown out walls–a testament to the militias and snipers that once operated here– Beit Beirut has been upgraded with refurbished floors, windows, concealed AC ducts, state of the art security and lighting.

Here are some photos of the interior, and at the bottom of this post, you’ll find a video walking tour of the building I did on Periscope.

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Original floors from the Barakat apartment building are retained in some places

 

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Graffiti: “The Sniper”

 

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Militias that left their marks on the walls now serve as major parties in Lebanese parliament, often using the same insignias.

 

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Located on the separation line between East and West Beirut, nearly every window in the Barakat building had a commanding view of the neighborhoods around it, making it popular with snipers.

 

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Several snipers’ nests like the one in this photo are set back from the arched windows.

 

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The atrium opens up at the center of the rooftop, revealing the joint between the old and new buildings

 

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Stunning views from the rooftop underscore the buildings strategic importance to militias

 

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Lebanese and French officials took plenty of selfies

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Beit Beirut contains a smaller screening room on the ground floor

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The screening room was also a sniper’s nest, seen here from the back wall, which looks onto the chairs below.

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Is the audience being sniped or doing the sniping?

 

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The Beit Beirut entrance retains both the war scars and original deco-esque sculpting. The museum is lit up by a giant projector across the street.

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Despite the clear accomplishments, some complained of discrepancies in the design, such as the treatment applied to the outer walls, which seems to have altered the shape of the bullet and shrapnel holes into neater, bubble shapes.

 

Even though the work is completed, Beit Beirut may not open for some time until the management can be appointed and a cultural program is designed. Hopefully this process will not take several years as has been the case with Beirut’s National Library, a sprawling multi-million dollar cultural space largely completed over a year ago, which remains empty and off limits to the public.

For now, here’s a walking tour of Beit Beirut that I shot on Periscope. Stay tuned for updates.