A Day in Beirut

I  strolled around the northwestern portion of the city, including the city centre, the walkway along the Mediterranean Sea, and the Verdun section. The weather is sunny and hot, and it would be clear if it not were for a few clouds in the sky west of here.

I looked to the north to see the mountains; and as I walked, I imagined residents retreating to those mountains as the war progressed and intensified. Although the street lights were in operation, for some reason many of the traffic lights were not. Cars seemed to randomly cross intersections, narrowly avoiding accidents.

A good friend who I know lives on a kibbutz in Israel just south of the fenced border with Lebanon. I thought about him hearing the rockets exploding and the shells narrowly missing his home. I also thought about the destruction south of here in both Lebanon and Israel, both of which I was unable to see from where I was located.

I must say that I could not have felt any safer walking around Beirut when I was there in 2006 — just as the violence in the war between Lebanon and Israel was waning. The city was under construction — not destruction — as it was experiencing yet another renaissance. Tall buildings are being built in many places, including what was to be the then-new Four Seasons hotel near the American University. There was a vast influence of American culture in addition to the European and Arabic cultures, which includes virtually every American fast-food chain, from Chili’s to McDonald’s.

I also had some traditional Lebanese food for breakfast, including grilled halloume and labneh, as well as hummus — and they were quite tasty. I also had a chocolate bread, made with generous portions of dark chocolate swirled throughout it. It was interesting and delicious!

As I walked south from the neighborhood of Verdun to the neighborhood of Jnah only a block or two east of the Mediterranean Sea, I began to notice a somewhat drastic change in the Beirut landscape…

…there were apartment buildings that appeared to have been destoyed. Some of the buildings were completely gutted; some were simply the outer shells with no interior; others appeared to have simply crumbled. There were whole city blocks with nothing occupying them but garbage and weeds.

It then occurred to me that Jnah is only minutes north of Beirut International Airport, which was attacked by Israeli forces from ships in the Mediterranean Sea during the war in 2006.

In stark contrast, there was plenty of new construction that has already commenced in Jnah…

…and I realized that Beirut was filled with stark contrasts: old and new; destroyed and rebuilt; bustling and quiet.

To some people, simply hearing the name Beirut conjures images of the ravages of war: bombed-out buildings, bullet-ridden walls, air raid sirens and a longing for peace.

I would say that the longing for peace is probably the most accurate of those descriptions; but see for yourself some of what I saw when I was in Beirut back in 2006:

Beirut Mountains View

Beirut in the morning with mountains in the background. Photograph ©2006 by Brian Cohen.

Beirut, Mountain and Sea View

Beirut in the morning with the foot of a mountain in the background as it meets the Mediterranean Sea. Photograph ©2006 by Brian Cohen.

This intersection had no traffic control devices, from what I could determine. There were many times where I was sure that an accident would happen as I looked out from the window of my hotel room. Photograph ©2006 by Brian Cohen.

This intersection had no traffic control devices, from what I could determine. There were many times where I was sure that an accident would happen as I looked out from the window of my hotel room. Photograph ©2006 by Brian Cohen.

I know...it is just a stop sign...but I thought it was cool. Perhaps the intersection shown in the photograph above could use a few of these? Photograph ©2006 by Brian Cohen.

I know…it is just a stop sign…but I thought it was cool. Perhaps the intersection shown in the photograph above could use a few of these? Photograph ©2006 by Brian Cohen.

Beirut Luna Park, complete with a ferris wheel. Is this a nod to Luna Park in Coney Island? Photograph ©2006 by Brian Cohen.

Beirut Luna Park, complete with a ferris wheel. Is this a nod to Luna Park in Coney Island? Photograph ©2006 by Brian Cohen.

Old lighthouse. Photograph ©2006 by Brian Cohen.

Old lighthouse. Photograph ©2006 by Brian Cohen.

Photograph ©2006 by Brian Cohen.

Photograph ©2006 by Brian Cohen.

The clock tower in the Beirut Central District, which was rather peaceful and quiet when I visited. Photograph ©2006 by Brian Cohen.

The clock tower in the Beirut Central District, which was rather peaceful and quiet when I visited. Photograph ©2006 by Brian Cohen.

Shopping area in the Beirut Central District. Photograph ©2006 by Brian Cohen.

Shopping area in the Beirut Central District. Photograph ©2006 by Brian Cohen.

The new Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque. Photograph ©2006 by Brian Cohen.

The new Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque. Photograph ©2006 by Brian Cohen.

Photograph ©2006 by Brian Cohen.

Photograph ©2006 by Brian Cohen.

The construction of new buildings contrasted what appeared to be a bombed-out building on the left. Photograph ©2006 by Brian Cohen.

The construction of new buildings contrasted what appeared to be a bombed-out building on the left. Photograph ©2006 by Brian Cohen.

An abandoned building. Photograph ©2006 by Brian Cohen.

An abandoned building. Photograph ©2006 by Brian Cohen.

Empty buildings are a reminder that true peace is still a fleeting goal here in Beirut. Photograph ©2006 by Brian Cohen.

Empty buildings are a reminder that true peace is still a fleeting goal here in Beirut. Photograph ©2006 by Brian Cohen.

Beirut at night. Photograph ©2006 by Brian Cohen.

Beirut at night. Photograph ©2006 by Brian Cohen.

What originally prompted me to write this article and share some of my photographs with you was this article about wanting to tour a war zone written by Glenn of The Military Frequent Flier weblog; and Beirut was the closest I had come to that. The divided city of Nicosia in Cyprus comes close, I suppose — although I had no problem with crossing the militarized border from the Greek-influenced Cyprus with the Turkish-influenced Northern Cyprus. I intend to post a trip report on that visit in a future article.

Although I can understand the potential adrenaline rush, I personally would not actively seek to tour a war zone; but I also would not hesitate to visit Beirut if I had another opportunity to do so in the future.

All photographs ©2006 by Brian Cohen.

2 thoughts on “A Day in Beirut”

  1. shay peleg says:

    As an israeli this is not important what is in important is if you talked to the locals and what they had to say on both sides?

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      I have to visit Israel first, shay peleg — and that is high on my list of places to visit…

      …and I witnessed an Israeli man and a Lebanese man who solved the differences between the two nations in which they live in fewer than eight minutes.

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