Hamra Street, Beirut’s Champs Elysées

Thursday, 23 September 2021 - 11:00 am (CET/MEZ) Berlin | Author/Destination:
Category/Kategorie: General, Union for the Mediterranean
Reading Time:  6 minutes

Hamra Street © flickr.com - Lolinka/cc-by-2.0

Hamra Street © flickr.com – Lolinka/cc-by-2.0

Hamra Street or Rue Hamra is one of the main streets of the city of Beirut, Lebanon, and one of the main economic and diplomatic hubs of Beirut. It is located in the neighborhood of the same name, Hamra. Its technical name is Rue 31. Due to the numerous sidewalk cafes and theatres, Hamra Street was the centre of intellectual activity in Beirut during the 1960s and 1970s. Before 1975, Hamra Street and the surrounding district was known as Beirut’s trendiest, though in the post-war period it has arguably been eclipsed by Rue Monot in Ashrafieh, Rue Gouraud in Gemmayzeh, Rue Verdun, and downtown area. In the mid 1990s, the Municipality of Beirut gave a face lift to the street to reattract tourists all year round. Hamra Street was known as Beirut’s Champs Elysées as it was frequented by tourists, mostly Americans, Europeans and mega-rich Arabs, all year round. Today it is a commercial district with numerous prestigious universities (such as: American University of Beirut, Lebanese American University, and Haigazian University), hotels, furnished apartments, libraries, restaurants and coffee shops, with “78 Street” (commonly known as “the Alleyway”) being Hamra’s main pubbing and clubbing hub.

Hamra Street runs east-west, connecting Beirut Central District with the Ras Beirut neighborhoods. The street begins at the intersection of Rue de Rome and runs west until the intersection of Rue Sadat. Hamra Street is also a walking distance from the American University of Beirut on Bliss Street, Haigazian University on Rue Michel Chiha and the campus of the Lebanese American University as well as Rue Jeanne d’Arc and René Moawad Garden on Rue Spears.

The Los Angeles Times journalist and Pulitzer Prize winner Borzou Daragahi described the street as a bastion of liberalism [that] embraces multiple religions and political views; Hamra Street is an amalgam of all of Lebanon’s religious groups, including Sunnis, Maronites, Melkites, Greek Orthodox Christians, Druze, and Shias. Hamra, however, remains Lebanon‘s secular haven, melting pot for free thinkers and the least religiously affiliated area around Beirut as the area hosts a limited number of churches and mosques.

© Freedom's Falcon/cc-by-sa-3.0 Neon lights on Hamra Street © flickr.com - craigfinlay/cc-by-2.0 Rene Moawad Garden © flickr.com - Steven Damron/cc-by-2.0 Eternal Sabah Mural on Assaf building © Magicman678/cc-by-3.0 Hamra Street © flickr.com - Lolinka/cc-by-2.0
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Neon lights on Hamra Street © flickr.com - craigfinlay/cc-by-2.0
It hosts a large number of western chains (including Gloria Jean’s, Caribou Coffee, Costa Coffee and Starbucks), as well as many local shops and restaurants. The appropriately named Cafe Hamra is a restaurant celebrating the historic street with an old street graffiti decor and a variety of international and Lebanese food as well as hookah smoking. Cafe Younes is another popular cafe that was first opened in 1935 and is run by a small family and is run by Amin Younes, the grandson of the founder of the same name. It is also known for its tourist appeal and variety of hotels. Its main landmark is the Crowne Plaza. The street buzzes with life during the summer when many tourists, especially from the Persian Gulf area, flock to Lebanon.

Before the Lebanese civil war, Hamra Street was known as Beirut’s “Champs Elysées” as it was frequented by tourists all year round. Beirut’s Piccadilly Theatre was one of the major theaters in the Middle East. Hamra Street is a first-rate commercial district which proudly displays the latest fads in fashion. It also hosts a good number of hotels, furnished apartments and coffee shops that cater to visitors and students from the nearby American University of Beirut, Lebanese American University and Haigazian University.

Hamra no longer functions as the cosmopolitan bastion of sectarian Lebanon. The Lebanese civil war and the ensuing government regulation that enforced rent control on all of the buildings removed the neighborhood’s elite, pre-war cachet. However, the neighborhood remains trendy and profitable because of:

  1. the historical significance of the neighborhood;
  2. the attraction of “authentic” Beirut to foreign tourists, particularly those from the Persian Gulf;
  3. the historic Hamra red light/supernightclub district, and the present acceptability of opening pubs, bars, and public cafes that serve alcohol in the district;
  4. the current locations of the Lebanese Central Bank (Banque Du Liban), many private banks, multiple major newspapers (As-Safir, the wartime and pre-war headquarters of An-Nahar, and the near neighbors Al-Akhbar and Al-Mustaqbal), and many Lebanese government ministries (including the Ministries of Interior, Information, Tourism, and Economy and Trade), which have existed in Hamra since before the civil war;
  5. the close proximity and economic focal points of three of Lebanon’s most significant universities: the American University of Beirut, the Lebanese American University, and Haigazian University.
  6. the booming commercial scene in Hamra St. that is a combination of retail shops, cafes, and restaurants.

Although it has yet to revive fully its pre-war legacy, Hamra Street has undergone many renovations and is still regarded by many as the heart of the city. While it is no longer the nightlife and commercial center of Beirut, it has become one of many pocket areas and streets scattered throughout the city, and is included with other streets and areas as Rue Monot, Rue Gouraud, and Rue Verdun.

Read more on living-lebanon.com – Hamra, Wikitravel Hamra and Wikipedia Hamra Street (Smart Traveler App by U.S. Department of State - Weather report by weather.com - Global Passport Power Rank - 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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