Al Manara: Laying claim to Beirut

Beirut 1925

  The public sector in Beirut is weak, to say the least. Services and resident rights are, if extant, unprotected or inoperative. Yet some fragments of the citys builtscape remind us that the public sphere has at one point manifested iteself  spatially in the city. Today, these spaces remain empty, unused or awaiting their demise.


The narrative of the old manara is a case in point. As a child living in its surroundings it always intrigued me. The black and white stripes, which seemed to climb up to the sky and project  beams of light  to guide vessels, I could never see in the waters, was almost magical. No building in the direct vicinity of the lighthouse on the hill could be constructed that would interrupt its projective abilities.

However, in 1995 MrRabih Amish, a private developer, was given permission to construct an 18-floor building in the Al Manara area. The outcome would leave a wall in front of Beiruts lighthouse destroying its functionality.

This eventwhich destroyed public infrastructure in the interest of private beneficiaries became a symbol of the Lebanese government’s demise.

The following is a photo essay depicting the  nearlly 200 year old monuments transformation on Beirut's seafront.

The lost city: Beirut Modern

Raouche Beirut Modern postcards

This blog has discussed preservation in the city of Beirut in relation to a building, THE GRAND THEATER in Beirut and public space, Martyr square  . Yet on the scale of the city how and what do we preserve?  As a city grows, mutates and becomes more contemporary the question of what to PRESERVE becomes more intrinsic. Do we stand still in time? Do we want to reserve everything ‘old’?  

Gondole a remarkable building Raouche lost . Photo taken by Sandra Rishani 2002

The internal staircase & internal courtyard of  Gondol building. A Landmark that we lost. Photos by Sandra Rishani 2002

Hamra, Raouche and Badaro are the perfect cases for such questions. Recently the booms in these areas' real estate markets have changed a large part of the housing and office stock of the area. Yet the histories of these areas are unique in the context of  the urban growth of Beirut. All three may be categorized as urban fragments that developed drastically in the 1960s and 1970s.
Yet the general public neither seems to be interested nor recognize that these fabrics and buildings may be worth preserving. The facebook page of an active NGO, Save Beirut Heritage,   is a case in point. It created a forum where people identify buildings they believe ought to be preserved rather than destructed to make way for new high-income high-rise buildings. The group documents the cases and attempts to saving them. None of the buildings posted online are from the modern period. Why is that? How do we define historic preservation? Is it everything that’s over 80 years old regardless of their spatial and or historical qualities? 

Beirut's general growth diagram. Yet the cityscape charm remains in its  multilayer-ed development

If the public does not define 'what', 'how' and 'why' it wants to preserve an edifice, the history of our cities will become like our history books- they stop at Independence Day.