Chermine Sleiman Haidar
On Saturday, April 1, and every Saturday for the past two months, the “Layers of a Ghostcity” tour has been taking place.
The tour starts at two in the afternoon at the Saint Georges Hotel, circles around Downtown, and ends at its starting point at around five. Participants include Lebanese citizens, as well as foreigners from Italy and Holland, among other countries. Children accompanied by their parents are also welcome to join.
Marc Ghazali, a Political Studies major at AUB, is the brains behind the project.
Ghazali recently obtained a permit from the Municipality of Beirut that allows him to organize these tours, and he enjoys spending his Saturdays wandering around Downtown Beirut with a couple dozen participants, telling them about the conflictual history that lies in its streets.
The subtitle of this short expedition conveys its ultimate aim, which is to tell a “story of governance, archeology, and reconstruction.”
Indeed, through different stops along the way, Ghazali explains how and why Downtown was reconstructed from scratch and privatized after the damaging Lebanese Civil War.
Throughout the walk, the guide kept in mind that most of the participants were foreigners who did not have enough contextual information to fully grasp the historical events he referred to. For this reason, Ghazali took the time to explain key moments during and after the Civil War, which made the information he provided accessible to all.
As he points out, the tour does not revolve around the Lebanese Civil War; however, the war is a central part of the history discourse on Downtown Beirut, since the needs for reconstruction and reparation in the area stem from the destruction it endured during the Civil War – mostly because it stood in proximity to the green line between East and West Beirut.
The short expedition started in front of the Saint Georges Hotel, followed by a stop at Zaytouna Bay, where Ghazali explained the politics of the privatization of this strip of land, as well as the Saint George administration’s conflict with Solidere.
The politics of privatization, ownership, and reconstruction after the Civil War in Beirut are controversial matters among citizens. Some view the reconstruction of Downtown as a threat to its heritage and identity, and a capitalist attempt to economically control the city. Others, on the other hand, see the reconstruction as a step towards modernity, making Beirut a touristic hub in the Middle East.
Ghazali took into consideration this underlying heated debate, and explained both sides to his audience along the walk.
The tour included the sightseeing of different archeological sites in the city, specifically in Beirut Souks, making it an enlightening experience not just for the tourist, but also for locals who don’t usually visit non-mainstream historical landmarks.
It is truly a shame that Lebanese participants, myself included, were just as uninformed on the history of Beirut as the foreigners – a shame how little we, as Lebanese, know about the history of the streets we walk on every day.