Beirut is my original homeland; I have based my PhD on its urban landscape, its history, war, peace, memories and its evolving cartographic maps. Beirut’s history remains unrevealed under its urban layers, mainly under its city centre, Sahat al-Borj. Like many cities, you dig a hole in Lebanon and you will find layers of history, archeological traces dating back to the first human settlement on Beirut’s City Centre, 600,000 years ago. Now this history lives in the interiority of Beirut, in its site.
Inspired by Italo Calvino book, Invisible cities I call these archeological and urban traces hidden cities. Like the imagined City of Theodora (Invisible Cities), Beirut witnessed one invasion after the next from its early settlement until present. All these civilisations created their own identity and imprint in and on Beirut leaving it to us to unravel; read and learn from past mistakes and history.
Urban archeological traces of Roman and Phoenician neighbourhoods. What used to be everyday interior places is now exterior places sometimes abandoned and unnoticed. They have become exterior urban museums, with interior qualities.
Right next door to Beirut’s old city centre is the French/Ottoman architecture, which was reconstructed exactly the same as it was before the Lebanese war (1972 – 1990). Underneath this section of Beirut, you will find traces of a Hellenistic city, the Roman grid of Cardus Maximus, Byzantine, Arab and Crusaders archeologies. All buried under the current city.
This is the boundary that separates Beirut’s old city centre from Beirut Downtown. The original plans were to join these two squares together similar to the Place to l’Étoile urban plan in Paris. However, the presence of two churches and a mosque stopped this urban development and the project was never completed since 1925.
The multiple cities of Beirut, where nature claims the old city back. Originally mulberry plants grew everywhere due to the rich agricultural soil of Lebanon. Beirut’s hidden cities are shying away from revealing themselves to the new city; they are worn-out and old, a green boundary now surrounds them. I am now researching, what type of place this is, what was its function, its interior identity, and what type of people occupied this place?
In the back, the Martyrs Statue stands proud in Beirut’s city centre. A significant landmark that witnessed the end of the 400 years of Ottoman Empire’s Mandate in Lebanon, the beginning and end of the French Mandate, and the beginning and end of the Lebanese war. The Status is still riddled in bullet holes, which should be a reminder of the brutality of war to the people, the country, its history and national identity.
29 km from Beirut City Centre is an area called Nahr el Kalb (the Dog River), visitors can find many stone tablets documenting the many invasions of foreign armies and civilisations that left Lebanon with urban traces. This is a first step of revealing Lebanon’s history.
In another peaceful zone, up in the lebanese mountains, a cloud joins the Lebanese mountains and valleys to the sky above, then it transforms into a fog once it resides into the pine valleys. This is the story of a cloud, encountered on the way to the al-Barouk Cedars. Fogs are a common encounter in the Lebanese valleys creating breathtaking and views of mystery and intrigue.