Then came the August 2020 explosion, when huge amounts of ammonium nitrate stored unsafely at the port shook the entire city. Of 650 valuable historical buildings listed by Save Beirut Heritage, 500 were partly damaged, 40 more heavily damaged, and six destroyed completely. Residents who had spent years fighting to keep the wrecking balls away from their neighborhoods found themselves living in a post-apocalyptic landscape of crumbled masonry and shattered glass. To embitter residents further, some landlords used tenants’ absence from almost uninhabitable homes to evict them, as leaving an apartment empty for more than three months thereby can be grounds to void a long-term rental contract.
“For three weeks, we didn’t even see any municipal power on the streets,” says Raji, “and then they suddenly came and wanted to enforce rules on who was entering the region — but it was people in the areas themselves who had been putting things back together.” Beirut’s central hall homes may have taken decades of battering. But in their enduring beauty, and the resilience they share with the communities who inhabit them, they help to remind us why so many people remain entranced by the city — and worry deeply about its future.
Above quotes: Created for a new middle class in the 19th century, homes combining European and Middle Eastern styles have survived war and redevelopment. Can they come back from the city’s 2020 port explosion?By Feargus O’Sullivan