Minister Of Culture Allows Demolition of Beirut’s Iconic “The Red House” & Destruction Is Already Underway

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Almost a year ago, the story of Beirut’s “Red House,” near Bliss in Hamra, was spreading like wild-fire. Most of us had taken the place’s existence for granted, as we walked by it on our way to university or on our excursions around the area.

But back then, the iconic “Red House,” which housed Ras Beirut’s Rebeiz family for generations, was under threat from some parts of that same family who had inherited the house and wanted to use the plot on which it existed to build yet another high-rise.

Luckily for us, the Ministry of Culture, through former minister Rony Araygi, responded to the pleas of those who advocated for the house to be preserved for its cultural value and placed the location on its list of protected sites around Beirut.

That changed in February.

For absolutely no justifiable reason whatsoever, new Minister of Culture Ghattas Khoury decided that the house wasn’t worth being a protected site in Beirut and, through the strike of a pen, removed it from the list of protected buildings around the capital with decree #32 on February 3rd, 2017, with it becoming valid when it was published in Lebanon’s Official Gazette on March 16th.

I wonder, who are we supposed to entrust with our culture and heritage if the Ministry of Culture couldn’t care less about the history of the country it’s supposed to be preserving? I mean, if a house that is as old and as preserved as the Red House can’t find its way onto a governmental protected list, then what’s left for sites whose history can’t advocate for them as much?

Is it maybe because the current owners are probably friends with PM Hariri and lobbied him into getting his Minister of Culture to do this?

As a reminder, the “Red House” is more than 300 years old. It was the beacon of one of Ras Beirut’s main matriarchs throughout the 19th and 20th century. It had a pivotal role in the politics of the area for more than 5 decades. It was the house of Ras Beirut’s mokhtar for over 50 years. It was where Louis Armstrong had dropped by for a visit during his Beirut stay.

The owners cite family feuds in the struggle over the “Red House.” But the truth is they don’t want to take over the property simply to kick out their family member who was living there, which is something they’ve accomplished months ago. They simply want to destroy the property.

In fact, Michel Rebeiz, now 94, who grew up there and whose mother was one of the more important matriarchs of Ras Beirut, still goes there every morning to check on his childhood home before it is no more. Neighbors around the area tell of him leaving with his eyes swollen as he laments what all of his history is turning into.

The truth is, however, that the “Red House” was never protected. Even when the Ministry of Culture labeled it as a protected site, sources say that attempts to demolish it were still underway. In fact, the following pictures were reportedly taken BEFORE the new minister had allowed the demolition but before:

So much for governmental protection.

Following its designation as a protected site, police officers from the Hbeich precinct did a surveil of the place. Their report is invaluable to show the illegal activities that have taken place on the property even when it was under governmental protection. Unfortunately, as regular citizens we cannot access such information.

The good news is that it’s not too late, yet. We can still get our Ministry of Culture to overturn their updated decision and to protect the “Red House” once again. The collective history of our capital and the landmarks that still stand testimony to it is more important than the money some people can make through backroom deals and under-the-table agreements.

Beirut is being destroyed every single day by contractors and politicians as well as people who couldn’t care less about anything other than their bottom line. The solution for such entities is a strong governance that puts them in their spot. It’s high time we get that, and the city we deserve. The “Red House” is our history. It’s horrible that even our history can’t survive our current corruption.

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Ministry of Culture To Buy Land & Save Lebanon’s Oldest Church in Downtown Beirut?

Source: The Beirut Report

Source: The Beirut Report

The site in Downtown Beirut, which is called “The Landmark” and at which a future hotel and mall were to be built, turned out to be an archeological jewel for Lebanon, unveiling three very important entities:

  1. A Roman gate,
  2. The old Roman road,
  3. Lebanon’s possibly oldest church (source).

I wrote on the issue yesterday. The matter has since made the rounds online. And it seems we’ve made a ripple. Lebanon’s ministry of culture is now considering to purchase the land where “The Landmark” is to be built because of its historical importance according to the following source (link – Arabic).

While the news is definitely welcome, I have to wonder – is it really Lebanese-like to have a ministry with a proven track record – the Roman hippodrome, Phoenician port and Amin Maalouf’s house are all destroyed – somehow respond this fast to demands and act on them? Isn’t it all too fast and too efficient to actually be plausible taking into consideration Lebanese standards?

Perhaps this whole “land purchase” deal is a decoy in order to calm down everyone whilst the real plans go underway. It’s not a conspiracy theory as much as it is the reality of a place like Lebanon where such things happen almost all the time. The question to be asked though: what truly got the ministry of culture to act this time while they didn’t regarding other sites despite all of them getting the same attention and vocal opposition to the demolitions?

It’s quite simple, in my opinion. “The Landmark” land has had a Church discovered in it. Prior to the discovery of the Church, and even though the Roman gate and road were both potentially discovered, the ministry of culture had no problem leaving the project underway and everything demolished in the process (source). But when a church comes into play, can a “Christian” minister truly leave the place be especially with so many “rights” at stake lately? It’s not about “culture” at all.

Ancient churches obviously trump everything else in archeological importance. And quite honestly, it was probably really smart to add a “Church” twist to the affair in order to get people – including the minister – to act. Can you imagine the even bigger outrage if the Church wasn’t saved?

Moreover, isn’t it despicable for us to now start hoping religion factors into the undiscovered aspects of our history in order to have a decent chance at having them saved, documented and potentially turned into a viable economical outlet that doesn’t require their demolition?

Based on a comment on my post regarding the matter (link), a law in Lebanon actually exists in order to protect ancient ruins from the claws of real estate and developmental projects with no other aim but blind money. The law in question was put into action prior to the civil war and hasn’t probably been put on hold akin to our new driving law.

Shouldn’t a country as archeologically rich as Lebanon, and a city with layers upon layers of history such as Beirut, have devised a method by now in order to accommodate the need for contemporary development with the need to also preserve history? How did cities like Rome and Athens manage to move into the 21st century? I guess it all comes down to the basic flaw in everything Lebanese: we never, ever, have a plan and a vision for a future.

How will the moguls behind “The Landmark” take the news that their entire investment will now go to waste? Is this even charted territory for us whereby the billionaire developers don’t get their way – in theory at least?

I hope for its sake that the next site to be unearthed in Beirut has some Umayyad mosque in it.

Marching For Beirut’s Hippodrome and Phoenician Port

In case you didn’t know, current Ministry of Culture has allowed for construction to take place at the location of the Roman Hippodrome in Beirut. For full details, check out this link.

Before Beirut’s hippodrome made news, however, another heritage site of ours was in danger. A Phoenician Port, over 2500 years old, in the Minet el Hosn region in Downtown Beirut, just behind Monroe Hotel. Venus Real Estate intends to build three towers instead of the port. The location, protected by former Minister of Culture Salim Warde, was compromised when Venus Real Estate used the transitory period between governments and convinced current Minister of Culture Gaby Layoun that the port was dispensable.

Details aside, Association for the Protection of Lebanese Heritage (APHL)  is marching for these monuments this Saturday, March 24th. Check out this Facebook event for the details.

I’m glad to see Lebanese people becoming proactive when it comes to things like these. Will you be marching with them?