Beirut, the “Paris of the East,” is done hiding its battle scars

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Preserving a City Where 80 Percent of the Past Has Been Erased
Downtown Beirut
Preserving a City Where 80 Percent of the Past Has Been Erased
Downtown Beirut

Even behind scaffolding and a curtain of green construction mesh, Beit Barakat, a stately, four-story stone apartment complex in Beirut’s Sodeco district, speaks volumes.

Hundreds of hand-sized craters — from bullets, mortar rounds and other military projectiles — mar the facade, gnawing the edges of the stout, sand-colored buildings. Interior walls, too, are marked by gashes of war, alongside faded black spray-painted graffiti: “I want to tell the truth: my soul will fly away in a minute.” Next to deep sniper’s portholes, sunlight splashes on chipped paint, charred plaster and brightly patterned floor tiles.

“When I first came here I had such great emotion, yet I didn’t know what it was from,” says Youssef Haidar, lead architect of a city-backed project to turn the building into a museum and urban cultural center. He’s leading a visitor on a tour of the site on a bright, early spring afternoon. “Was it related to the old cracking paint, the architectural value, the bullet marks and the sniper bunkers? Was it just everything together? I couldn’t be sure, so we decided to keep everything as is.”

Lebanon’s civil war began in 1975 and split the capital in two: the Christian east and Muslim west. Beit Barakat (“Barakat House”) sits on Damascus Street, the backbone of the city divider known during the war as “The Green Line,” in reference to the many trees and bushes that sprang up in the absence of human activity. Christian militias spied an opportunity at Beit Barakat — two buildings linked by a corner entryway, with vantage points in all directions — and commandeered it as a snipers’ nest. []

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