Looking northeast along the Mediterranean coastline from Beirut’s Dar Mreisse district. Photo: Henry Lewis

From the foundations of the ancient Phoenician Empire to occupations by the Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Ottoman Turks and French, Beirut was destined to become a cosmopolitan city with a rich cultural history.

The 20th century witnessed rapid change in almost every area of life for Beirut’s residents, particularly following WWI when treaties granted France power over the future territories of Lebanon and Syria.

After independence in 1943, Lebanon’s capital developed into an entertainment oasis that attracted Europeans looking to experience the exotic Middle East and Arabs seeking the forbidden fruits offered by the city’s nightlife districts.

However, Beirut’s privileged location on the Mediterranean Sea directly north of Israel and west of Syria also brought destabilizing forces that eventually erupted into the prolonged Lebanon Civil War from 1975 to 1990.

A more stable period followed the civil war, as the city’s diverse population worked hard to rebuild and repair the physical landscape as well as mend the gulf between the region’s competing religious sects. These efforts reaped some success as Beirut once again became an international tourist destination for those seeking a pleasant climate, excellent cuisine and sizzling nightlife.

Still, sectarianism seethed just beneath the surface and political corruption (along with economic malfeasance) continued to dominate the government. The past decade has seen Beirut fall on hard times once again, its fortunes seeming to rise and fall like the tides that lap the city’s sharp edges.

The administrative incompetence that led to last week’s disastrous explosion at the Port of Beirut announced to the rest of the world what the residents of Beirut have known for many years – that government (at both the city and national level) has become the enemy of the people.

Here’s a visual tribute to this fascinating city and its long-suffering residents.

Many Beirut streets are lined with once opulent apartment buildings , recalling the city’s more prosperous days. Photo: Henry Lewis

The houses constructed by many of Beirut’s wealthiest residents are decidedly European in architectural influence. Photo: Henry Lewis

Place de l’Etoile is a busy square in what was (pre-explosion) Beirut’s newly restored city center. Photo: Henry Lewis

Samir Kassir Square, in the Beirut Central District, commemorates the late journalist and political activist Samir Kassir. The square is located behind the An-Nahar building, the renowned newspaper headquarters where Kassir used to work. Photo: Henry Lewis

The American University of Beirut, established in 1866 and considered the top university in the Arab Region, is set in a stunning location on a hill overlooking the Mediterranean Sea in the Ras Beirut district. Photo: Henry Lewis

Numerous archaeological sites–such as these Roman ruins–dot the landscape in Beirut’s city center district. Some sites were discovered while cleaning up the debris from the Lebanon Civil War which destroyed much of the city center. Photo: Henry Lewis

This bombed-out shell of a movie theater – a legacy of the Lebanon Civil War – has been left in Beirut’s city center as a symbol of the destructive power of war. Photo: Henry Lewis

The Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque in Beirut’s city center was a favorite project of Prime Minister Rafic Hariri. Hariri, who led efforts to reconstruct Beirut’s destroyed city center following Lebanon’s civil war, was assassinated in 2005 leading to another period of political instability. Photo: Henry Lewis

The interior of Beirut’s Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque is beautifully painted and lavishly furnished with crystal chandeliers (typical of grand mosques in the Middle East) and Iranian carpets. Photo: Henry Lewis

This detail of Beirut’s Mohamed Al-Amin Mosque shows the intricately painted interior domes. Photo: Henry Lewis

The Catholic Armenian Cathedral of St. Elias is found in Beirut’s city center district. The city has historically been home to a large Christian population representing a broad spectrum of different sects. Photo: Henry Lewis

The historic Saint Louis Capuchin Catholic Church, backed here by one of Beirut’s many city center towers. Photo: Henry Lewis

I’m wishing the residents of Beirut a long period of peace and prosperity once they’ve triumphed over this latest tragedy.

♥I’m adding a link to a post by a fellow blogger on how to help the homeless in Beirut now.

https://thatpinkpassportgirl.wordpress.com/2020/08/11/how-to-help-lebanon-right-now/

peace~henry

Header Image: Lebanon’s namesake cedars line many of Beirut’s more upscale neighborhoods. Photo: Henry Lewis

 

Posted by Henry Lewis

Unconventional artist, writer, videographer and teacher. Personal Quote: It isn't easy being me ;-)

30 Comments

  1. I think most governments are the enemies of the people and religion is a violent and hateful force on the earth.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi @hitandrun1964

      Yes, that does seem to be the case. Thanks for your thoughts.

      Like

  2. Gireesh Navath August 9, 2020 at 2:56 pm

    Thank you Henry for walking us through the city of Beirut through your tell-tale photos. Namaste 🙏

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you Gireesh. Namaste para ti 🙏

      Like

  3. Thank you for this beautiful tribute to a city and a country that were dear to me. I grew up in the company of those Christians who were refugees from the civil war, or more clearly from the interfaith confrontation, and they shared with me the horrors of the fighting and the beauty of their country. I fear that the last shreds of openness to progress are being swept away by the expansionist forces of obscurantism harassing the region.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s a troubled region indeed and many innocent people are simply caught up in a battle for survival.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Poor Beirut. I was hoping that Lebanon’s pluralistic government experiment would work, but sectarian factions ruined it. Back in the 80s, I got to know a few Lebanese coworkers. They were honorable people. They also wore the painful scars of the tumultuous history of their country. I felt for them, but they didn’t need or want pity. They only wanted to return home and fight for what they believed.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Robert,

      The Lebanese diaspora is quite a phenomenon. There are many who would love to have the opportunity to return to their country and work together toward a more prosperous future.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I wish them peace.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That would be a good starting point Jim. Thanks.

      Like

  6. Thanks for your historical and visual snapshot of Beirut. My heart is with the people of Beirut now left homeless. May they find the strength and courage to do what must be done to recover from this tragedy ❤

    Liked by 2 people

    1. These are my sentiments as well. Thanks Rosaliene.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Your photos bring back a lot of good memories from my trip to Beirut in March 2019. It’s hard to believe that months later, the country’s economy began deteriorating really fast, and then Covid-19, and now the explosion. Beirut is one of the most fascinating cities I’ve been to, and Lebanon among the most beautiful countries. Throughout my stay, a lot of people said to me how much distrust they have in their government. I really hope this latest catastrophe will bring a thorough change in the way the country is run.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Bama,

      Thanks for your comments. At this point, Beirut’s up and down spirals must feel like a roller coaster ride for the locals. I agree that it’s one of the world’s most fascinating cities. And Lebanon is indeed a beautiful country. I too hope for better days ahead.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Some Beirutis are already thinking of leaving the country altogether. If this keeps going, it would be another tragedy for Lebanon.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Great photos, Henry. Sad for the loss of lives and residences there.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Rebecca,

      Thanks. Lots of sadness for sure.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Such incredible and amazing beauty! Needs to be protected and preserved.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, it’s a very romantic crumbling beauty. As usual, funds for restoration have been difficult to come by, especially for young Lebanese entrepreneurs with good ideas but little capital. Thanks for commenting Cindy.

      Like

  10. Thank you for this beautiful tribute. The Lebanese have a long way to go…so much destruction and loss. L

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much for reading and commenting.

      Like

  11. The beauty in the detail of the Mohammed Al-Amin mosque domes above is a labour of love. The corruption behind the explosion an unforgivable act of cowardice. How do we deal with these two aspects of human nature?
    Thanks Henry.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Marios,

      Human nature is complicated indeed. As you say, we are creatures who are capable of creating great beauty as well as horrific destruction. It seems that without a major leap forward in the collective human consciousness, we will likely continue to limp along into a future filled with suffering.

      Like

  12. Lebanon is a beautiful country that not many are aware of if they haven’t visited because of how the media has portrayed the country for so long. Lovely photos you have taken! I have made a post just now on how people can help Lebanon. Beirut will be beautiful once again

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for helping to spread the word about the organizations working to provide the basic necessities for those in need in Beirut and beyond. I’ve added your link to my post and again here.

      https://thatpinkpassportgirl.wordpress.com/2020/08/11/how-to-help-lebanon-right-now/

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you for sharing my post 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  13. This is an amazing post. We learned a lot from you. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi John,

      Thanks for your kind words, but I barely touched the surface when it comes to the very complicated politics of Lebanon. Take good care.

      Like

  14. These are amazing pictures. If I am not wrong, Beirut is called Paris of the East.
    I hope these fantastic buildings are still intact.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi and Thanks Sandeep. Yes, you are correct in saying that in the past Beirut was often referred to as Paris of the East. Sadly, that title would be inappropriate these days due to the negligence of both the municipal and national governments. I do hope the local people can find a way to preserve the best of the city’s diverse heritage as they struggle to rebuild after the tragic explosion that caused so much physical destruction, the loss of many lives and resulted in hundreds of thousands being left homeless.

      Liked by 1 person

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