Story of Biruta

Like a phoenix, I rise

A city’s continuous destruction and reconstruction

She fell,

She crashed,

She broke,

She cried,

She crawled,

She hurt,

She surrendered,

And then…

She rose again.

     Biruta… Never heard of this city?

     Find your closest map and try looking for it.

     You cannot find it? Look closer.

     You gave up?

     Don’t worry you’ll find it very soon as you keep on reading.

Biruta was an old city inspired by the Macedonian architecture. In 140 B.C., Biruta was destroyed by Diodotus Tryphon in his contest with Antiochus VII Sidetes for the throne of the Macedonian Seleucid monarchy. Very soon, Biruta was rebuilt on more conventional Hellenistic plan and renamed Laodicea in Phoenicia. This new city was built over the old one. In 64 B.C., the city was conquered by Pompey and was assimilated into the Roman Empire. In 14 B.C., during the reign of Herod the Great, the city became a colonia and was named Berytus. Public architecture included several bath complexes, colonnaded streets, a circus and theater. However in 551, an earthquake occurred and left many archeological sites underground. In 635, the city was renamed after it passed under Arab control and was rebuilt. During the middle ages, the city was overshadowed by Acre. During the period of 1110 and 1291, John of Ibelin rebuilt the city. However, from 1975 to 1990, the city sadly was under a huge amount of destruction.

This city was destroyed and rebuilt seven times.

Each time this city rose from the ashes and came out stronger than ever before.

This city is Beirut, the spirit of the Phoenix, the Paris of the Middle East.

In the late 1990s and in the beginning of the 2000s, tremendous efforts and resources have been dedicated to the reconstruction of Beirut’s city center due to its destruction during the civil war.

images (1)

Before the war, Beirut was the only city in the Arab region offering many services such as banking, excellent education, reputable medical facilities, and luxurious hotel and dining experience, not forgetting the tremendous amount of entertainment the city offered. During its Golden age, 1.5 million visitors annually came to Beirut to witness its unique nightlife and rich archeological sites.

However, the war destroyed the city in many ways. Urban warfare was a main feature of this war. Beirut was divided according to ideological and religious lines. A new mental map of the city was created: East and West Beirut separated by the Green Line demarcation extending from Martyrs’ square along Damascus road to the south of the city. The central area district which flanked the demarcation line became the main combat zone.

new map

As soon as this battle ended, another kind of battles began: a battle to rebuild the central district. Yes, a battle. Many plans were suggested but got off to a poor start due to many strategic decisions that led to loud public protests.

Finally, a master plan was adopted that promised to preserve the historical layers of the city and make reconstruction and development possible. Emphasis was primarily placed on acknowledging historic street alignments and devising a set of urban design and building controls to encourage the redevelopment of the traditional Beirut.

34556_beirut_souk_el_bazerkan

Project milestones were: Place de l’Etoile, Saifi residential neighborhood, and administrative buildings. These milestones extended to Beirut Souks and the Waterfront Park.

These projects were beautifully executed and life returned to the central district of Beirut. However, I cannot help it but to ask: did the master plan really respect its main strategy to revive the memory of the old Beirut? Is this old city’s soul still present?

I wonder.

Hopefully, I will find my answers in the next post.

Resources:

The timeline of Beirut. Wikipedia.com

Simons, K. Dividing and Rebuilding Beirut: Lessons from a Contested City. PlannersNetwork. April 23, 2003.

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