Once described as the “Paris of the Middle East”, Beirut lost that moniker after the city was decimated by the civil war that raged here from 1975-1990. There are still remnants of the old Beirut found throughout the city, and it is easy to imagine how beautiful it once was.
The old stone houses with multiple balconies, triple pointed arched and round windows, topped by pyramid roofs of red tiles are still found throughout the city. The influences of the French and Ottomans are evident in many of the buildings. Unfortunately, these reminders of Beirut’s glory days are few and far between. More common are multi-storied concrete apartment buildings with little if any architectural interest. Alongside a high-rise might sit the remnant of a once beautiful home, sitting idle as it waits for a long forgotten owner to reclaim it or sell it to a developer. Many of these still bear the wounds of war; blown out windows and bullet holes covering the walls. The city cannot salvage abandoned buildings, as a still standing law requires the physical presence of the owner for its sale.
A few of these continue to house a tenant or two since another antiquated law does not allow for increases in rent beyond the amount paid before the war. Thus, a tenant might be paying $10 a month rent in the one remaining apartment of an otherwise dilapidated building. The downtown section of Beirut has been rebuilt with its history in mind, but it continues to struggle to regain its past glory in spite of its attractive architecture.
Like the society itself, Beirut’s buildings are a study in contrasts. Old and new, beautiful and decimated, the multi-faceted personalities of this city and its buildings are somehow able to co-exist and survive.