This article first appeared on the Usenet newsgroup soc.culture.lebanon on 26 Jul 1996

LebEnv #5


by Fareed Abou-Haidar

Lebanon's coast used to be well-known for its beautiful, wide-open sandy beaches. Unfortunately, the beaches have not escaped the environmental degradation plaguing the rest of the country. Trash and oil are obvious examples. More often overlooked is the destruction of the coastline by huge development projects, mostly in the form of resorts.

Most of these beach resorts turn their back to the beach because of pollution in the sea. They usually include their own swimming pools and paved decks; these are separated from the sandy beach by a wall of rocks that has buried part of the beach. Stairs may lead to the remaining sand for those willing to risk swimming in the sea.

Most of these resorts also include a private jetty (marina, port) built of large pieces of rock quarried out of some unfortunate mountain. These jetties have chopped up the beaches into little private segments separated from each other by walls. Worse, they have wreaked the flow of currents in the sea and may have affected the deposition of sand on the beaches. Needless to say, public beaches are few and far inbetween and inadequate.

The worst of spectacles can be seen from Harissa, 500 meters above the sea. The poet Lamartine once described the Bay of Jounieh, with its graceful curve of sand, as the most beautiful in the world. In the 1960's, the government built the port of Kaslik, which deformed the south end of the bay with large, angular jetties sticking out into the water. During the war, many private developments were built all along the bay, riddling it with private ports and blocking the view of the sea from the old main highway with big buildings. The Bay of Jounieh from Harissa now resembles an old comb with broken teeth. Not pretty.

The best remaining beach in Lebanon is the Beach of Tyre stretching south towards the border. Thanks to the continuing war, it has escaped the development that has trashed the rest of the coast. It has been proposed as a National Park (as of 1993), but I do not know if it has actually been designated.


Before the war, the government had the foresight to protect the coast of Beirut by banning construction below the Corniche. This guaranteed the scenic views of rocks and sea that Beirutis enjoyed on their promenades. There were a few exceptions by old restaurants already there, such as Ghalayini Restaurant below the Carlton Hotel.

During the war, when corruption was rampant, the new owners of the restaurant got a license to build a resort, to be called Merryland. Bulldozers gouged out the entire land mass between the edge of the Corniche and the sea, dumping a huge wall of rocks and soil into the sea. In the process, a prehistoric cave where Stone Age artifacts had been found was totally destroyed. The tip of Beirut, as seen from Ramlet el-Baida, looked like a maiden whose face had been mutilated by Jack the Ripper. After standing empty for several years, a large building was inserted in the hole. The place is now owned by Meridian, a well-known foreign hotel chain that should know better than to invest in such illegal and destructive projects.

Let's hope the government has the sense to protect what remains of Beirut's coast. The area between the Meridian and Pigeon Rocks deserves to be a world-class city park and nature preserve in a city that has almost no public parks.



Created 960901