SkyscraperCity Forum banner
1 - 20 of 411 Posts

· Feel the pungency!
Joined
·
31,156 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
A year has passed since that cursed day of August 4, 2020, when an enormous explosion at the port of Beirut killed hundreds of people, injured thousands others, and damaged large swaths of the city. Since the port is located in the central part of Beirut, the areas that sustained the most damage were unfortunately those where much of the city’s historical architectural heritage remains / remained, a heritage dating back mostly to Late Ottoman and French Mandate times (mid-18th century to 1920, and 1920 to early 1940s respectively). Lebanon has long lagged behind other Mediterranean countries when it comes to the preservation of historical buildings, due to an unfortunate combination of obsolete laws, corruption, greed, lack of interest, and copying the totally unsuited development model of the Gulf countries, widely seen as the definition of success. As a result, a large number of heritage houses and buildings were torn down over time to make way for modern buildings, residential towers, parking lots and shopping outlets, and fewer than 900 remain in Beirut, 640 of which were damaged by the August 4 blast, including 60 that are now at risk of collapsing.
The map of the city proper below shows the extent to which every area was affected by the August 4 explosion (whose site is represented by the red dot):
  • Yellow areas received minor damage, mostly in the form of broken glass and torn doors and shutters, with most buildings remaining structurally sound
  • Red areas suffered substantial damage, with a number of buildings there having their roofs ripped and their interiors destroyed
  • Dark red areas suffered devastating damage, with a high proportion of buildings losing roofs and other structural elements, and some being downright reduced to rubble

This thread aims at giving you a glimpse of those rich in historical architecture, and yet little known to tourists and foreigners, areas that received the most direct hit by the explosion’s shockwave, in the eastern half of the city proper (east of the famous and “picture-perfect” restored Central District). Despite the amount of time and effort I put in taking and editing all the pictures, this not intended to be a comprehensive list of the surviving architectural heritage of Beirut, because I never resided in the city and only visited it for very brief periods, so it was simply not possible for me to find and document every house or building of interest. Moreover, finding even basic information about the buildings (name, year of construction, etc.) has proved to be an extremely difficult task it’s impossible to carry on through online research. As such, the thread’s aim is rather to give you an idea of what this “real” part of Beirut looks like, to point out the advanced state of disrepair in which many old buildings unfortunately lie, and the fast paced and uncontrolled wave of construction taking place around them, putting them at immediate risk of being demolished, and to raise awareness about the urgent need for the preservation of what little architectural heritage is left in my home country.
 

· Feel the pungency!
Joined
·
31,156 Posts
Discussion Starter · #3 ·
During the second half of the 19th century, Beirut was designated as a provincial capital of the Ottoman Empire, and started witnessing a rapid urban transformation and expanding beyond its walls. The rich bourgeoisie began to settle on the hilly area east of the walled city, known as Ashrafieh (literally “the place commanding a good view”), building large houses surrounded by gardens or orchards. The area’s urbanization quickly accelerated under French mandate, when the authorities established legislations that generated a harmonious urban fabric. Starting in the 1940s after independence, new building laws were adopted, leading to increasing building heights that modified the morphology of the city. The 1950s witnessed an intense building boom, leading to the establishment of the Beirut Master Plan by French urban planner Michel Ecochard. This controversial plan affected the city proper with the highest possible exploitation ratios, putting a growing pressure on its numerous heritage buildings and resulting in an increased risk of demolition for them. Alfred Naccash Avenue, the main artery through which Ashrafieh is accessed from the south, was opened during that period. Jacaranda blooms dot its southern part, close to the Hotel Dieu de France hospital:

 

· Feel the pungency!
Joined
·
31,156 Posts
Discussion Starter · #5 · (Edited)
Map: 1
At first glance, nothing old remains to be seen. The avenue moves through an urban scape of residential mid-rises from the 1960s and 1970s, high-rises from the 1990s, and skyscrapers erected after 2000 as it approaches Sassine Square, considered as the heart of Ashrafieh (Map: 2):
 

· Feel the pungency!
Joined
·
31,156 Posts
Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Map: 3
It then passes under the square and resurfaces at the level of the ABC Ashrafieh shopping mall, continuing northwards until College de la Sagesse:
 

· Feel the pungency!
Joined
·
31,156 Posts
Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Map: 3
The sea is clearly visible from that spot. An eerie detail: the doomed Warehouse 12 of the port where the explosion happened was located right in the extension of the avenue, which channeled the shockwave until Sassine Square:
 

· Feel the pungency!
Joined
·
31,156 Posts
Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Map: 4
The area west of Alfred Naccash, which was already built up and well developed in the period of French mandate, has experienced an unprecedented boom in the last 15 years fueled by the opening of ABC Ashrafieh, Lebanon’s first true mall and one of its largest, part of which can be seen here:
 

· Feel the pungency!
Joined
·
31,156 Posts
Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Map: 3
It is however the area to the east that we’ll start exploring, whose settlement had begun under French mandate, but really took off during the 1950s and 1960s. The avenue is bound by a tall concrete wall, decorated with a mural representing Lebanese singer and actress Sabah, one of the Arab world’s most emblematic figures:
 

· Feel the pungency!
Joined
·
31,156 Posts
Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Map: 5
While this one, next to it, has been left to decay and urgently needs restoration to get back to its former beauty, some of which can still be seen faintly in the elegant blind arches on the first floor:
 

· Feel the pungency!
Joined
·
31,156 Posts
Discussion Starter · #13 ·
Map: 5
The most remarkable feature on this part of the street however is the small cemetery of the Orthodox church of Mar Mitr (St Demetrius), which gave its name to this sector of the city:
 

· Feel the pungency!
Joined
·
31,156 Posts
Discussion Starter · #14 ·
Map: 6
The church dates back to the early 19th century, but took its funerary function after 1860 as a result of a decree requiring all cemeteries to be moved outside the city walls:
 

· Feel the pungency!
Joined
·
31,156 Posts
Discussion Starter · #16 ·
Map: 6
Among the tombs are those of some of the city’s most prominent bourgeois families, most notably the Sursock and Bustros families, who built a number of palaces in Ashrafieh:
 

· Feel the pungency!
Joined
·
31,156 Posts
Discussion Starter · #17 ·
Map: 6
Interestingly enough, while these families follow the Orthodox faith, like most of the Christian population of Beirut city proper, the architecture of the tombs is clearly of Catholic / Western European influence:
 

· Feel the pungency!
Joined
·
31,156 Posts
Discussion Starter · #18 · (Edited)
Map: 9
This is one of the many details exemplifying the long-time nature of Lebanon as a whole and of Beirut in particular as a melting pot of east and west:
 

· Feel the pungency!
Joined
·
31,156 Posts
Discussion Starter · #19 ·
Map: 7
Since the shockwave from the blast was channeled with full force by the street passing next to the cemetery, the sculpted elements of the tombs must have sustained some amount of damage:
 

· Registered
Joined
·
1,651 Posts
Map: 6
Interestingly enough, while these families follow the Orthodox faith, like most of the Christian population of Beirut city proper, the architecture of the tombs is clearly of Catholic / Western European influence:
Maybe catholics have already immigrated. Most of the are living in South America, thats why Lebanon went of 60% Christian to 40%.
 
1 - 20 of 411 Posts
Top