Last Seen: exploring the charms of Beirut
IT WAS MYSTICAL
There’s a rare feeling you experience when you are in the presence of magical buildings. It was like a scene from Alice in wonderland transitioning from reality to fantasy. I fell silent, staring awestruck – It was a complex web of emotions from wonder to comfort to enchantment.
We entered through a wooden door that seemed mistakenly placed on the concrete wall buffering the busy street, from the fantasy of what lies behind – the secret garden.
Not knowing where to look, my eyes were bouncing – from the gorgeous gardenia tree, that rose at least one story high floating like a fluffy cloud, to the magnificent curved staircase suspended on a stone arch, with every step up marking my descent further and further into wonderland madness traveling further back in time.
THE POWER OF ARCHITECTURE
Upon entering the house, our host held the door wide open for us as soft music played in the background like a soundtrack to this incredible scene straight out of a movie.
Inside, there were all the marks of a master builder: the high ceiling rooms, hand carvings, triple arched glazed windows, wall paintings (paint that has sustained over a century). Simply said, it is a beautiful composition of proportion, harmony, and balance. These secrets of construction are why we look to the past for inspiration.
MARKS OF TIME
Age gives buildings something else—greater dimensions of meaning. Visiting this house was an extraordinary example of the marks of time. It makes you question why old places matter, and what exactly it is that we are protecting? These buildings have the capacity to reveal deeper layers of existence and define our civilizations. They offer a fascinating insight into the high life of the time.
Beirut falls short in protecting its heritage. This house, like many many others, is an inspirational setting serving as a reminder to save Beirut’s heritage and continue the fight to allow them to keep telling their stories – time after time.
Listening to the owner’s stories as we wandered left me wanting more and more. These stories are an inspiration to our lives today. I have visited many abandoned houses. But this house was something else. It is lived in, appreciated and loved. This is what I dream of seeing in all the other similar, but forgotten houses.
Have you ever wondered about all those ancient houses in the neighborhoods of Zokak El Blat, Basta, Ein El Mreisseh, Monot, Gemmeyze, and Marmkhael (the list goes on…)? As an entry point to understanding Beirut’s current situation, here are a couple of things you need to know about listing: listing began as a legal system to protect, and save Beirut’s heritage. The first lists were compiled by tagging hundreds of buildings into different categories worthy of preservation. Throughout the years, these numbers incessantly decreased, allowing for their destruction. Today, in favor of private developer’s interests, our gems are being robbed from us overnight – failing to recognize that our heritage is irreplaceable. There is no value to money that can price heritage buildings. Our history should continue to be enjoyed by present and future generations.
Beirut celebrates some amazing individuals and groups that have worked tirelessly to preserve local heritage and culture. To check out some of our local heroes check out the ‘Save Beirut Heritage’ Facebook page.
BECAUSE THE BEST PLACES ALWAYS HAVE BACKSTORIES
A lot of times houses are renovated but their stories are not told. Showing how something has been done, explaining the huge amount of work and skill that’s gone into it, and hearing from the people is a powerful ability.
This house has become immortalized, at least in the memory of its residents, and now in mine. The true experience of the house cannot be described without discussing its past, present and hopefully magical future.
What I loved: being hypnotized by the afternoon sunlight playing on the thin marble tiles of the intricate triple arched façade