Friday, August 8, 1997

LebEnv #34


by Fareed Abou-Haidar

Two weeks ago, I discussed the plight of old, traditional Lebanese houses. In general, the picture is not pretty, but there seems to be a renewed appreciation of these old houses, now that so many of them have been lost to development and war.

Just a few examples:

In the Qantari area, on Rue Spears, two adjacent old buildings have been thoroughly and beautifully restored to their original condition, and now serve as the headquarters of Future TV.

Over near the other end of the Rue Spears-Ring Boulevard line, in the Akkawi area, another old house, a survivor of the war in that area close to the old front lines, has been restored. Red-tiled rood, three arches overlooking a balcony, green wooden shutters; all have been repaired.

Nearby is the famous Nicholas Sursock Museum, built in 1914 and a fine example of architecture that has been protected in an area where other mansions have been demolished and replaced by large buildings.

On Bliss Street, just west of Cinema Strand (and directly south of where Bliss Hall is on the AUB campus) is another old Lebanese mansion, one of many that lined that street. There was one similar to it in the next property to the west, but it was demolished in the late 1960s and was replaced by a parking lot until a highrise was recently built. Things did not look good for the surviving mansion; it would be a matter of time before it too fell victim to "progress." Thus, I was heartened when, in 1995, I saw that the house had been beautifully restored.

On the old Sodeco from lines, an old building of about four floors with Art Deco features, which must have been extensively damaged by fighting, has been repaired and repainted, and once again is home to people. Farther south down the old Damascus Road, several identical houses built in the traditional style (two floors, three arches, balcony, red-tiled roof) on the * campus have been restored to mint condition while others still showing war damage others wait (in 1995).

And, let's not forget the National Museum nearby, itself a historical building. Pulverized during the war, the facade now looks brand new. Don't ask me how they did it!

In 1995, for perhaps the first time in Lebanon, a street has been closed to cars and made into a pedestrian area called Au Vieux Souk. The old downtown street of Zouk Mikhael now houses many restaurants and traditional-crafts shops in restored old houses.

The historical and uniquely situated village of Bqua'a Kafra, the home village of Mar Sharbel, I found out in 1995, is being restored with the help of a German cultural institution. I hiked through it and saw extensive restoration work.

Old Saida is worth its weight in gold; it is the only walled city of its kind in Lebanon. (Byblos is also walled, but is less densely built.) Most of its streets are so narrow that cars do not use them, and the whole old city forms a maze that one could get lost in. It was badly damaged by Israeli bombing in 1982; the old hammam (bathhouse) near the port was destroyed, and bombing destroyed part of the old city, leaving a "hole" behind. Many of the historical khans and mosques within its walls have now been restored, but there are now plans to protect the entire old city.

Tripoli was also badly damaged in the war years after 1982. Many historical buildings have been restored, most notably the Tailors' Market (Souk el-Khiyyateen) with help from the Germans.

There are organizations in Lebanon devoted to saving old Lebanese architecture, but at present, I do not have addresses or phone numbers. The best-known one is Lady Cochrane-Sursock's organization, The Society for the Preservation of Historical Sites (I hope I got that name correctly). Also, architect Samir Rubeiz, in an article in Al-Nahar on March 26, 1993, announced that the The Lebanese Center for Studies for the Restoration and Preservation of Heritage was being formed to maintain and restore old buildings. Your best bet for finding more information is at the Nicholas Surso ck Museum in Beirut or at the School of Architecture at the American University of Beirut.

(See other photographs from some of the areas mentioned above.)



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