March 24, 2012

Zaitouny Bay

The board walk, restaurants on the right, boats on the left

Summer is on its way and Beirut has a new venue to explore; Zaytouni Bay. It is a 20,000 m2 waterfront project right in the heart of Beirut that only recently opened its doors. It’s a really fancy development, surrounded by hotels, with some 17 restaurants, a marina filled with yachts and a board walk (of real wood, a rare commodity in this town).

I must say that the whole construction of the place, although I drove by it about 5 times a week, totally passed me by until it was finished and up and running. My daughter was invited to a birthday party there, and so I went. You enter the site through an underground parking (one which I fear will flood during a serious storm), but when you come out, it’s a rather bizarre experience, since you basically step out of Beirut and into some other Mediterranean port in France.

This could be any French Mediterranean town

It is un-Beirut-like to me; too civilized and in shape. I have never known the pre-war Beirut, and sometimes wonder whether stories of the ‘Paris of the Middle-East’ are the figments of imagination of a people that went from a civilized place to a dump in less than a generation.

But an elderly lady I was with, assured me that this is how it used to be. We’re talking pre-war Lebanon, when it was in the late sixties, early seventies. And if you look at pictures of the old days, it does look real (go to the beach ones).
However, amidst all these fancy one-million dollar yachts (or more), there is the St. George Hotel in its former glory; as I remember Beirut. The place is standing there just as burnt out as it did in 1975, when militias, in one of their first act of destruction,  set the place on fire.

The St. George (pre-war photo) and the current marina

I am glad though that the St. George Hotel is holding out against all this perfection. The current owner of St. George is upset with the development company Solidere, which holds the Zaitouny Bay Marina, and refuses/is not allowed to rebuild the hotel. Depending on who you talk to, it’s the other side’s mistake, but it in the end it is all about money. And so the Battle of the St. George Hotel continues.
 kind of like it this way; everything all new and fancy and shiny, and then this shot-through-blown –up-burnt-out-skeleton of a Beirut icon. A humble reminder.

The current St. George

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