October 11, 2009

A Friendly Neighborhood Walk; Zokak el-Blat

The Ziade Palace, built in 1860, was abandoned by its owners in 1975 , at the start of the war. Squatters occupy now the first floor.

I went on a friendly neighborhood walk through Zokak el-Blat. Not your best neighborhoods these days, although you should not translate that into ‘not safe’. I don’t know of any neighborhood in Beirut that is deemed ‘unsafe’, as in terms of criminality. We haven’t evolved that far, thankfully.It’s not one of the best neighborhoods these days in economical terms.
But Zokak el-Blat used to be one of the ‘upper class’ districts, where rich people built their villas, or palaces as they call them here, and ambassadors had their residences. It was one of the first suburbs of Beirut, and the first quarter to have a paved road, hence the name ‘Zokak el-Blatt’ (the cobbled, or paved road). That was in the 1860’s.
At the start of the civil war, the original owners left to 'safer' neighborhoods.

It was still posh until the 1930’s, and then it started going downhill. I guess people like me moved in, har har. My husband’s family lived in the Qasr Aker (Aker Place) for many years until the start of the civil war, in 1975, when the fighting began right in front of their door. They found a temporary residence in a safer neighborhood, but some 16 years later, they were still living there. Zokak el-Blatt found itself right on the Green Line between christian East en muslim west-Beirut. When the owners left, the refugees, fleeing their houses from other parts of the country/city, flew in, and that was the end of that.

Another beautiful building, abandoned. Waiting for a buyer so they can construct highrise in its place.

The actual house of hubbie is still there, all 700 M2 of it, and they still have the rent contract, but the place has seen countless refugees since 1975, and it’s not habitable anymore. Imagine a house of 700 m2 with ceilings 6 meters high (18 feet)! Guess what that will do to you electricity bill. Anyway, the neighborhood has had its best days, but a lot of its former glory can still be seen and visited. There are lots of fabulous buildings still around. Unfortunately they have either been turned into schools, and thus revamped, or are abandoned, and falling apart.This one reminded me of an American barn, and guess what? It is an American barn! The building was prefabricated in Ohio, shipped to Beirut, and once constructed in 1920, housed an American publishing company run by Protestant missionaries.
This hovel wasn’t on the list, but I thought it was pretty impressive. The ‘owner’ didn’t want me to take a picture of the house, and we threatened each other with calling the police. :)
The Heneine Palace in the front (right) with the Ziade Palace in the back. Both were built in the 1860’s, and both were abandoned at the start of the civil war, never to be inhabited again. The former inhabitants have taken up residence in other more posh neighborhoods since then, and are trying to sell.

The neighborhood walk was organized by a group that also works with Souk el Tayeb. The initiative is a good one, although it’s a bit shocking to see mainly foreigners show up for the guided tours, and some Lebanese; the kind that rarely speak Arabic amongst themselves. I’d like them to tackle some other neighborhoods, like Monot , Gemayze and Sursock, where the architectural heritage is even more mindboggling. You can, by the way, walk in other neighborhoods as well, with a guide. This is organized by WalkBeirut, but I cannot vouch for the quality, never walked with them. It seems that on Saturdays, there’s a tour with a special emphasis on the city’s architectural history at 4:30. The whole tour includes 23 stops. To try it for yourself, contact Walk Beirut.
And I couldn’t resist this one; another pair of taule players.


Raffi said...

WoW! Thanks to you, I learned new stuff here.

Expats are great in discovering/pointing out many areas that are taken for granted by locals.

Kheireddine said...

My maternal grandparents lived in the 3rd building (from the top) with round balconies from the mid 30's to the mid 50's.My mother grew up there and she went to the Lycée de jeunes fille.
About Zkak El Blat in history, I suggest to read "Fin de siècle" My great grandfather Ibrahim El-Ahdab is mentioned:


Kheireddine said...

Sorry, the link was truncated

Sietske said...

I have to admit, I haven't visited many important places in Holland; I know Beirut better than I know my hometown Utrecht! :)

Wow Kheiredinne, you really know this place! You really should come back for a visit one day. You'd enjoy it.

Kheireddine said...

My root are there, Ibrahim Ahdab street is further down near Bachoura cemetary, it is where our family lived from 1860 to the mid 1930's

Marillionlb said...

This is where I grow up. I attended school at the MLF and my sister at The Saint Joseph de l'apparition school. The Heneineh house is where my grand mother lived (she is a Hneineh). Sad to say that the area I spent most of my youth has been changed from old houses to ugly concrete buildings, all except Asem Salam's house. I used to walk from home to school and from school to "Abou Toros (Siranossian) for some "eclaire au chocolat" before going back home.
I have tons of good memories, from buying from Camille (opposite the Lycee Francais) to the bicycling at the "Sanayegh garden" on sundays.
You just brought tears to my eyes!

Kheireddine said...

I went to Lycée Abdel-Kader from 1979 to 1985, My best schoo lfriend still lives in the Arifi Building facing St-Joseph de l'Apparition, the street view where the lights are lit was taken in front of his building, it is Maurice Barrès st.
I used to hang around those old houses and stairs...

angie nader said...

looks like Naba..

Marillionlb said...

Would you if it is no bother e-mail me the picture of Hneineh and Ziadeh Palace?
Thanking you in advance


nic said...

WalkBeirut is the brainchild of the son of Chatah (former Minister of Finance), so it has a lot of Solidere... and surely he will tell you some neighborhoods are 'unsafe'! ;)

Anonymous said...

have you noticed how yours is the only negative comment on a really interesting comment section discussing an article eveyone is enjoying reading and talking about?

Abir said...

I actually grew up in that neighborhood. The building you said was habitat of many refugees is where I was born & grew up in. It has great memories and get your information right. It was not home to refugees at all. we actually had a legal rent agreement, the only people thjat were there illegally were the habitants of the 1st floor.

Anonymous said...

I would like to ask Marillion for some information about the Hneine building. If you have any pictures from the inside please let me know. I'm working on a project and it's related to the Hneine building, however they are not allowing us to enter to take pictures. Thank you

Sietske said...

Sorry, but I've never been in the Hneine building. But your enquiry reminded me of an art collection I was planning to write about, so thanks!

H.M.Yamout said...

Maurice Barres Street was not unfortunately included in Solidere works. It would be a pity if the first paved street outside walled Beirut that actively participated in the Age of Arab Nahda two centuries ago turns into a slum in its spring! May be we need a dedicated company which upholds the street's quality without forgeting its history.