Achrafieh in Beirut

Friday, 4 March 2022 - 11:00 am (CET/MEZ) Berlin | Author/Destination:
Category/Kategorie: General, Union for the Mediterranean
Reading Time:  4 minutes

Moussa Sursock's palace © James Bradbury/cc-by-sa-4.0

Moussa Sursock’s palace © James Bradbury/cc-by-sa-4.0

Achrafieh is an area in eastern Beirut, Lebanon. In strictly administrative terms, the name refers to a sector (secteur) centred on Sassine Square, the highest point in the city, as well as a broader quarter (quartier). In popular parlance, however, Achrafieh refers to the whole hill that rises above Gemmayze in the north and extends to Badaro in the south, and includes the Rmeil quarter.

Although there are traces of human activity dating back to the neolithic era, the modern suburb was heavily settled by Greek Orthodox merchant families from Beirut’s old city in the mid-nineteenth century. The area contains a high concentration of Beirut’s Ottoman and French Mandate era architectural heritage. During the civil war, when Beirut was separated into eastern and western halves by the Green Line, Achrafieh changed from a mostly Christian residential area (compared to bustling, cosmopolitan Hamra, in Ras Beirut) to a commercial hub in its own right. In the early 2000s, the area became a focal point of the city’s real estate boom.

Ibrahim Sursock's villa © James Bradbury/cc-by-sa-4.0 Moussa Sursock's palace © James Bradbury/cc-by-sa-4.0 Youssef Sursock's palace, now known as the Feghali House © James Bradbury/cc-by-sa-4.0 Zahrat al Ihsan Street © James Bradbury/cc-by-sa-4.0 Alexandre Sursock's villa, now known as Villa Mokbel © James Bradbury/cc-by-sa-4.0
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Youssef Sursock's palace, now known as the Feghali House © James Bradbury/cc-by-sa-4.0
Achrafieh contains some of Beirut’s largest remaining clusters of historic buildings from the late Ottoman and French Mandate periods. However, much of this heritage was destroyed during the Civil War (1975-1990), with many structures undergoing reconstruction in the following decades. The area also saw several construction booms (including during the Civil War, in the mid-1990s, and the 2000s), during which much of the built heritage including gardens was replaced with tower blocks to maximize land value. Heritage buildings have been torn down for inheritance reasons, as a way of evicting tenants on so-called “old rents”, or because of lack of maintenance.

The area now contains the tallest towers in Beirut, including Sama Beirut near Sodeco, and SkyGate near Sassine Square. The area around Sursock Street has been rebranded by developers as a “golden triangle” (triangle d’or), as it has a balance between permissible population density and development rights (e.g., height of buildings).

The built environment was badly affected by the explosion at Beirut’s port in 2020, particularly in the northern parts of Achrafieh. An emergency law was promulgated in the immediate aftermath to stop the sale of land and evictions from houses around the port for the following two years. Several civil society organizations, most notably the Beirut Heritage Initiative, have been working to restore groups of houses affected by the disaster.

Very few of the remaining heritage buildings have any official protection, despite lobbying from civil society groups. A new bill was passed in 2017 by the Lebanese government to protect heritage sites around the city, marking a historical turning point for activists who have pressed for legislative action since the end of the war, but has not been ratified.

Read more on Wikitravel Ashrafieh and Wikipedia Ashrafieh (Smart Traveler App by U.S. Department of State - Weather report by weather.com - Global Passport Power Rank - Travel Risk Map - Democracy Index - GDP according to IMF, UN, and World Bank - Global Competitiveness Report - Corruption Perceptions Index - Press Freedom Index - World Justice Project - Rule of Law Index - UN Human Development Index - Global Peace Index - Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index). Photos by Wikimedia Commons. If you have a suggestion, critique, review or comment to this blog entry, we are looking forward to receive your e-mail at comment@wingsch.net. Please name the headline of the blog post to which your e-mail refers to in the subject line.






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