January 06, 2015

Hidden Gems

Downtown Beirut. No, really. This bit used to be sea. The old quay wall on your right.
Some more hidden gems for you, this time right in the middle of Beirut.
We’ve got a storm coming up, they say, so people are staying in. The fishermen of the little harbor along the Corniche have pulled their boats out; that usually is a sure sign that this is a strong storm. Nobody knows the weather like fishermen.
The fact that is it the Armenian Christmas today also helps for empty streets. If you need to something in town today, I’d say today is the day. I like this town empty.

The old sea wall (seen from the former sea side), the sky-line of East-Beirut, and the navy shipyard in front of it.
On the right the storm breakers, waiting to be placed. This path used to be sea.

We went for a morning dog hike in downtown Beirut, but not the downtown Beirut you probably know. It’s a secluded spot, a hike along the old coast line of Beirut. Lebanese like their cars, and many of these spots in Beirut are only known to those that walk; the runners, the dog owners , the Syrian construction workers and the Sukleen guys.  I would almost suggest you all got out of your cars and discover Beirut on foot, but I kind of like to keep these hidden gems to myself.

The pavement of the old boulevard (sea was on the right side, now it's the Biel area)

We walked along the old ‘Rue du Port’ and then along the ancient quay that separated the sea from the old port (look at block 129.2 & 218.5 of this map of 1936). These days the part on the left is what used to be known as the Normandy landfill, while the old port is now taken by the navy. The new map shows the landfill. It’s almost rural in some parts, funny to think that this was all a garbage dump once. Rows upon rows of storm breakers are still waiting to be used for the extension of the harbor, but I am afraid that project is on hold indefinitely.

port on your right

Besides the storm breakers made of cement, there is some other interesting building material lying around. Downtown Beirut is built on top of previous settlements, most notably the bit from the Roman civilization. The Romans came late into the game, some 2000 years ago (63 BC), but they loved to built: Walls, roads, theaters, temples and public bath houses were erected all over the place, using stone from local sand stone quarries, or granite imported from Egypt.  
It was sunny this morning! (Jan. 6, 2015)
Some of it was lost to spoliation (an early form of recycling, where people used building materials from old buildings for new structures), some got destroyed in earth quakes (the one of 551 apparently was a pretty big one) , or destroyed during conflicts. What remains, ended up under layers of following civilizations. With the rebuilding (or revamping) of downtown Beirut, some of it was uncovered, some was built over, and some was just, well, what to do with it? It is piled up, waiting for a day when something can be done with it.

Wouldn't mind having this in my back yard. If I had one.

In other places there are heaps and heaps of basalt cobblestones, that came from the old cobblestone streets in downtown Beirut. Good to see that bit didn’t end in the landfill. I never quite understood why we do not use more cobblestones in Beirut. It helps significantly in drainage during rains storms (such as the one now), you do not need to repave the entire road for road works, you just take them out and place them back in again afterwards, and it looks better too.

But as I was saying, plenty of hidden gems in Beirut.


Anonymous said...

Nice gems you found here. Sometimes I wish the Romans were still ruling lebanon. So much potential here;such a shame really.

Tony W. said...

Wow, very interesting place...
Do you know if it is possible to walk all the way to the end of the breaker or does that belong to the port?

Anonymous said...

I travel often to Beirut for business but would never expect to see this near a place like Downtown, which is all glitter.
Nice job!