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Beirut's Heritage Buildings

This guide aims to list some of Beirut's heritage buildings and provide resources to assist researchers with their needs on this specific topic.

Welcome to Beirut's Heritage Buildings Guide

This guide aims to list some of Beirut's heritage buildings and provide resources to assist researchers with their needs on this specific topic. According to Cambridge Dictionary, a heritage-listed building is "a building of great historical or artistic value that has official protection to prevent it from being changed or destroyed".


Historical background:

Beirut is known to be rich with heritage buildings representing the architectural glamour of the Ottoman and French-mandate eras. Article 26 of Lebanon's preservation laws dating back to 1933 legally obliges the Lebanese government to reimburse owners of buildings it has classified. This same obsolete heritage law preserves only monuments built before 1700.

As a result of the construction boom, many Ottoman villas, 1950s apartment blocks, and French mandate maisonettes were turned to dust. In 1995, activists presented to Michel Edde, the Minister of Culture, a list of 1,016 buildings that should be preserved. The survey of heritage buildings was done by experts from APSAD. The ministry froze 520 of those houses in 1996. After protests by the owners of many of these classified houses and the intervention of political pressure, the Council for Development and Reconstruction commissioned a new study of Beirut's old buildings by Khatib and Alami Engineering Co. which placed the buildings in 5 categories A to E. As a result of this study, only 459 buildings were under investigation. As a follow up, categories D and E were "unfrozen" or released from classification in 1999, further reducing the final number of buildings classified in the protected list to 250.

Examples of buildings removed from the protected list:

  • Early 20th century Khoury Palace in Zokak al-Blat was transformed into a parking lot in 1999.
  • Grande Brasserie du Levant, a historical landmark built in the 1930s to produce the local beer brand Laziza, was officially closed in 2003. Its demolition started in 2017 to make room for Mar Mikhael Village.
  • The façade of a historical art deco building on Gemmayzeh's Gouraud Road was knocked down in 2017.
  • One of the buildings of estate 575 on Ibrin Street in Achrafieh was demolished in 2019.
  • Al-Mandaloun Berjawi heritage building was demolished without any administrative permission in May 2020.

Current situation:

Currently no new legislation has materialized concerning preservation of heritage buildings, despite efforts by former Culture Minister Raymond Areiji in 2016 to draft an updated heritage law. According to Areiji, the number of remaining heritage buildings in Beirut is 500. This number of enduring heritage buildings has decreased over time and more so following the unfortunate Beirut blast that occurred on August 4, 2020. As a result, 640 historic buildings (including heritage buildings) were damaged, 60 of which are at risk of collapse. The damaged buildings include old homes, museums, religious sites and cultural landmarks like Sursock Museum.

                               Sursock Museum heavily damaged during the Beritu blast on August 4, 2020

                              Source: https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/not-window-left-intact-saving-beiruts-heritage-rubble


References:

Ghaith, N. (2016, June 21). Passing heritage law more urgent than ever. The Daily Star (Lebanon). https://www.pressreader.com/lebanon/the-daily-star-lebanon/20160621/281599534791803

Kadi, S. (2020, August 27). The effort to save Beirut's heritage destroyed by port blast. The Arab Weekly. https://thearabweekly.com/effort-save-beiruts-heritage-destroyed-port-blast

Singh-Bartlett, W. (2000, March 30). In with the old and the new. The Daily Star (Lebanon). https://www.dailystar.com.lb/Culture/Art/2000/Mar-30/106097-in-with-the-old-and-the-new.ashx

Beirut’s heritage buildings photographed before and after

Beirut’s heritage buildings photographed before and after by photographer Joseph Khoury.

(YouTube channel, posted on August 23, 2020)