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.
This detail of Beirut’s Mohamed Al-Amin Mosque shows the intricately painted interior domes. 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.
Header Image: Lebanon’s namesake cedars line many of Beirut’s more upscale neighborhoods. Photo: Henry Lewis