Saving The Jesuite Garden… because It’s Christian


I always thought everyone knew that Beirut had a green space problem. The city has 3 parks that are open to the public. You can count the trees on the entire city’s sidewalks. There is no concept of urban planning. And there’s certainly no functional public transport system, which is one of the main flaws with the city structure.

Yet there are people who think all is fine with the city environmentally. Don’t be shocked, yes they exist.

The fight to save the Jesuite Garden, which culminated in a protest held at the garden in question slightly less than a week ago didn’t take much to go down sectarian lines. The representative of the Beirut municipality that showed up at the protest had one line of interrogation to throw at those who didn’t want the garden removed: what’s your name? Where are you from? Who’s politically backing you?

Because, you know, God forbid a fight to save a park is exactly just that: a fight to save a green space.

Interestingly, for many – the fight wasn’t to save a green space. Many protestors against the park’s removal don’t even care that this is one of the few areas of green space in Beirut. They care that there are ancient Christian ruins there… And that might be exactly what is needed to save the park.

It’s one thing to tear down a tree. It’s even one thing to tear down a Phoenician port, a Roman hippodrome or any other old structure. But once religion comes into play, all projects are off. Do not even attempt. It happened with the Beirut Downtown site recently and it might happen again here.

The bottom line when the religion card is played in such cases often turns out to be positive. It might be even smart to cash in that card whenever possible. But is it healthy to coerce a municipality to save a park just because they don’t dare to awaken a sleeping monster not because they, as a municipality, should become aware of the problems such a destruction would cause?

The municipality will end up not learning anything for future practices later on or even possibly thinking about some plans to really tackle the issues that necessitated the park’s destruction.

Till when will the focus of individuals in this country be religion-centric, ignoring other facets of society that affect their lives as well and which are worth speaking up for?

I don’t want the Jesuite Garden gone not because it has a derivative of Jesus in its name and on its grounds. But what do I know, I guess. Talking about a temporary fix for parking and destruction of green spaces sure pales in comparison to Jesus.

The Destruction of Achrafieh’s Jesuite Garden

While walking around Rome with a friend yesterday, he said the following: “you know, it’s a beautiful city but I wish it had more trees like Paris.”
I replied: “We’re ones to talk. The only trees I’ve seen in Beirut are in the Jesuite Garden next to my apartment in Achrafieh.”

I guess I jinxed it.

A highway tearing Achrafieh in two, removing countless parking spaces and destroying greenery that is otherwise rare in Beirut was not an enough project for Beirut’s municipality.
They now want to destroy the Jesuite Garden in question, which I wrote about before, in order to build … *drumroll* … a parking space (link).

The municipality is trying to sugar-coat the deal by saying they will replant trees above the parking, which will be underground. But how is that acceptable when the park has been around for decades and has ruins in it that date back to ancient times as well?

Is there a parking problem in Achrafieh? Sure. Is the solution for that problem killing off one of the few rare green spaces in Beirut? Hell no. I have absolutely no idea who’s the urban planning expert working at that so-called municipality but how inept is he at his job?
But what can we expect, really, when experts from Ile-De-France try to convince the municipality that its practices are unacceptable and still they go through them?

It’ll be one sad day when this park where I broke my arm and where my grandpa used to take me to play becomes a mass of concrete rubbish. But isn’t that what Beirut really is?

Jesuite Garden – Achrafieh, Beirut

Over the years, this garden located in Geitawi, Achrafieh, became a shortcut for me not to go around the block in order to reach my house. When I was younger, my grandparents used to take me to play there with my brothers and friends.

As I grew up, I outgrew it I guess.

Now, with my time in Achrafieh becoming less and less abundant, I look at the Jesuite garden and can’t help but smile. The place today is full of old men and women, going about the rest of their days, succumbing to the reality that they’re not what they used to be.

The maids now bring the kids to play. When I used to be a kid who came to this garden, parents were the chaperons of their kids. Times have changed.

There’s also a new public library. The garden now has wifi as well. Times have changed. Yes they have.

But once I pass next to the Jesuite garden, when I eventually find a place to park in Achrafieh, I can’t help but smile as I remember how it used to be to hold my grandfather’s hand and walk into its doors, my heart racing in order to run to that swing.

My memories of the garden today are different. They are ones of gratitude, filled with happiness that I really had a great childhood, some of which was spent in its midst – even though it was the place where I broke my arm during the Easter vacation of 1996.

As I pass the Jesuite garden, I see familiar old faces. And then some time later, I don’t see them anymore and I know that their time must have come. Other faces replace them. Those faces become familiar and the cycle repeats itself.

This is the heart of Beirut – the one we should never forget.

This is where I broke my arm

The public library