BEIRUT Column: Bits and pieces of the Civil War

Tamara Saade

Lifestyle Editor

 

In Deir El Kamar, a wax museum attracts tourists from all over the country. The silk museum is the main attraction of Bsous, and Saida proudly vaunts its soap museum. Lebanon flourishes with museums of all kinds, but 17 years after the end of the Civil War, the country still lacks a proper war memorial.

History books stop at the seventies, avoiding all kinds of lessons concerning the war, and no impartial and objective account of it has been made. A museum dedicated to the memory of the war, Beit Beirut, is said to open later on during the year.

This museum is a first step to honor the victims of the war, as well as create a collective memory for generations who did not live through the 15 years of conflict.

An alternative to books and museums, to learn about the civil war, is to stroll around Beirut and take in what the city has to offer. Some buildings remain in the same deplorable state, nibbled by the bullets, looted from their walls and ceilings, but full of stories and memories.

Amongst them are many famous constructions, such as the Holiday Inn, the Egg, or Burj El Murr. Although the main structure remains, those edifices are empty from the inside, blending with the landscape as concrete pieces of the urban puzzle that is Beirut. Those buildings, along with the Saint-Georges Hotel, are some of the few reminders of the Lebanese Golden Age, the effervescence and liveliness of what the country used to be.

Today, the old hotels and centers are some of the only survivors of the war who aren’t afraid to show their scars, but on the contrary, to flaunt them. Although those buildings are not officially recognized as landmarks of the war, they do hold an importance in the history of the conflict.

More discreet sights also have their stories, and hold a place in the story of the war. The Grand Theatre belongs to this category. Shyly blending in with the rest of Downtown Beirut because of its almost impeccable façade, the Grand Hotel is ravaged from the inside.

What used to be one of the most glorious and glamorous places since the thirties is now left in the hands of Solidere, a giant in the real estate business in Lebanon. The old tapered curtains, the ruined theater scene, and the remaining colored glass ceilings are proof of the glory of Beirut before the civil war. Before Solidere turns it into a boutique hotel, the Grand Theatre can still be considered a relic of the war.

Many civilians also paid the price during the war, and saw their own homes torn apart, or even invaded by fighters. Walking along Damascus road, also known as the Green Line, Ras El Nabeh, or any street where opposite clans used to fight, pedestrians can witness the impact of the war. Some homes still have holes in their walls, where snipers used to hide, while other buildings have camouflaged their bullet holes with graffiti and street art.

Seventeen years after the end of the war, the country is still trying to heal its wounds. Before reaching the point of building a consistent war account, and proper memorials, the streets of Beirut offer themselves to whoever wants to know about the war. The trick is, they need to learn to be patient, and listen to the stories the city has to offer.

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