Ras Beirut’s Rose House, also known as La Maison Rose, has always been one of the city’s most ambiguous and beautiful landmarks. Found in the Manara district, passersby on the Corniche can see a gorgeous villa suspended next to Beirut’s old lighthouse (the new lighthouse was constructed closer to the sea after Beirut’s shoreline was expanded). Many have seen this gorgeous piece of architecture, but few know what history lies beneath its walls.
I remember witnessing it for the first time last summer as I was strolling the seaside with my friend, and since then we’ve been wondering about the story behind the pink house that lies on the small hill facing the Mediterranean.
Beirut used to be a beautiful display of villas and mansions throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, but with the continuous renewal of Beirut’s infrastructure, most of these houses have been replaced by modern towers and skyscrapers. This house is one of the few survivors. Few have had the chance to admire the iconic 19th century mansion’s interior over the past few years, as access is restricted.
The early history of the mansion remains an enigma, as its original builder remains unknown. For the 50 years before 2014, the Rose House had been rented by the Khazen family, and thus access to it was only restricted to visitors with permission to enter, mainly friends and relatives. Fayza el-Khazen, now the previous tenant, has previously told of her brother Sami the painter, who turned the house into a meeting spot for other artists during Lebanon’s golden years of the 60’s and 70’s. Sami el-Khazen passed away in the year 1988.
In the past two years after 2014, the Rose House came under the spotlight again after it was temporarily opened to the public. British artist Tom Young hosted “At The Rose House,” an exhibition which featured paintings, sculptural pieces, short films, lighting designs, and poetry. The exhibition took place between November 19, 2014 and January 30, 2015.
Through this exhibition, Young had hoped to put this exquisite architectural piece back on Beirut’s cultural grid after negotiating with el-Khazen and obtaining permission from her to do so. After the mansion’s previous owner passed away in Paris, his lawyer sold the pink gem to real estate developer Hicham Jaroudi, who gave el-Khazen two years to move out.
Young thus also feared that the long standing building will be destroyed under this new ownership and had hoped to shed light on it one last time.
The villa still decorates the hillside of the Corniche, serving as a spectacle for the many joggers and passersby that occupy its sidewalks. Its future is still unknown, but there are hopes that the new owners will renovate it and permanently open it to the public again as a museum or art gallery.
For now, we can only hope that more initiatives are taken to preserve Beirut’s history and heritage in a time when very few landmarks and public spaces remain in a city overcome with skyscrapers and modernity.