For years, Beirut was a synonym for chaos and destruction. But it has also been called the Paris of the Middle East. Today, the city retains vestiges of both those legacies, making it an enchanting — if disturbing — place to visit. For those unable to make the trip, we’ve compiled these postcards of the sights and sounds of Beirut. Press play to see the drawings come to life!
The Holiday Inn
Construction of the Beirut Holiday Inn was completed just in time for the outbreak of civil war in 1975. The only guests the hotel ever had were snipers who took advantage of the building’s height. It was passed back and forth between the warring factions several times, and was pounded by all varieties of artillery. The building is still occupied by the Lebanese army, but has been deemed structurally sound, so it could theoretically be remodeled.
The Pigeon Rocks
Raouche is the western tip of Beirut, where the city juts out into the Mediterranean on bleached cliffs. The area has been inhabited for more than 5,000 years. Today it’s home to upscale cafes and apartment buildings and, farther out on the shore, a small fleet of fishing boats.
The Refugee Camp
Shatila is the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Beirut. What started in 1949 as a temporary tent camp with a few hundred refugees has grown into a sprawling neighborhood of 12,000. The influx of Palestinian refugees, who now make up a tenth of the Lebanese population, has been a destabilizing force for most of the country’s history. Children born here are given Palestinian, not Lebanese citizenship, in the symbolic hope that they’ll someday return to Israel.
Le Chef Restaurant is a classic symbol of Lebanese cuisine. In the hip Gemmayze neighborhood, it is surrounded by upscale eateries, surviving only on its dingy charm, and the efforts of its overfriendly head waiter. International reviews of the food are divided, but locals and foreigners keep coming back for more.
The Green Line
For 25 years, the green line divided Muslim West Beirut from Christian East Beirut. It wasn’t a formal political boundary; it was a devastated and overgrown stretch guarded by snipers in the bombed-out buildings. Recently, reconstruction by Solidare, a controversial development group associated with the Hariri family, has given the area a facelift. But a destroyed church and bombed-out theater remain.
Prime Minister Rafik Hariri dominated Lebanese politics during the reconstruction period following the end of the civil war in 1990. Then in February 2005 he was assassinated by a massive bomb in central Beirut. A memorial shrine still stands to Hariri along Martyr’s Square. Blame for the assassination has been cast far and wide — from Hezbollah to the Syrian government to the Israeli secret service — and the controversy threatens to plunge Lebanon back into civil war.