Booming Beirut struggles to save its past

Written on December 20, 2010 by Banafsheh Farhangmehr in Arts & Cultures & Societies, IE Humanities Center

I’m sure tourists do not come to Lebanon to see skyscrapers.
says Pascale Inega, heritage activist

Though great for Beirut’s economy — Lebanon’s Central Bank says the property sector is worth $10 billion a year — the construction boom has come at a price: the destruction of much of the city’s ancient heritage.

With legislation aimed at preserving Beirut’s architectural heritage making faltering progress through the parliament, according to pressure groups, they say it has fallen to them to try to preserve what remains.

In recent months, thousands of activists — recruited using Facebook — have joined a campaign that has already successfully put some pressure on the government and brought the situation to international attention.

“Developers are transforming the city in the image of Dubai,” said Pascale Inega, a Lebanese artist and co-founder of the newly-established Association for the Protection of the Lebanese Heritage.

“Each country has its own image, and we cannot be the model of Dubai. We are not a desert, we have our own culture.”

With architectural influences dating back beyond the French colonial era of the previous century through 400 years of Ottoman rule, Beirut’s urban landscape was once a reflection of its rich history.

Many historic buildings were destroyed damaged during the 1975 to 1990 civil war, but those that survived have been increasingly under threat.

Lebanon’s Ministry of Culture says that of 1,200 old mansions and buildings surveyed in 1995, only 400 still stand. Campaigners say that number is dwindling each year.

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