This past Friday Haydar’s mom dropped Haydar and I off at the Corniche Beirut. Haydar had a couple things in mind to explore in the area, but I was so taken by the sea that we ended up spending a lot of time by the water. We crossed the street and made our way down to the first place Haydar wanted to show me, which may not look like much at first. It is a wide dirt drive leading down to an open space full of boats, a sort of boat parking lot, if you will.
As we made our way down, someone caught up with us. He spoke with Haydar for maybe ten minutes and followed along with us as we walked down from the Corniche. At first I thought he might be asking about directions, but then I realized, by his body language, that he was delivering a sales-pitch. His arms were gesturing to the sea and beyond the hill you see in the photo above. At the end of the exchange, he went further down towards the parking lot for boats and waited.
It turns out that he was offering us a boat ride for 15,000 Lebanese Lira each, which is about $10.00. His colleague, who was just finishing up with some other customers, would take us next if we were interested. We would board on the other side of the hill, and then be taken to see a cave in the bluff and underneath the Rock of Raouché. As I didn’t see anyone else around, and all of these boats were empty in front of me, I was a bit hesitant. However, Haydar reassured me that this was completely normal.
I ran to the left of the structure you see in the photo above to take a quick picture and then we joined the salesman to accept the offer for a boat ride. Here is the view I was capturing, while drooling (not at the resort you see stretched out into the water, but at the sea and mountains beyond).
We made our way past the hill in the first picture and continued through rubble and wreckage of demolished homes. Haydar explained that these homes belonged to fisherman who fished in the area. There were restaurants that would be filled with customers looking to eat fish caught in the area. The lands were squatted, and the government bulldozed their homes (there is more to this story). At the other side of the top of this hill was a staircase, left over from the fisherman community that used to be here. This brought us down to a beautiful “wharf”.
And finally we found ourselves on this boat, getting a small tour of the Mediterranean Sea and one of Beirut’s most recognized natural features, the Rock of Raouché.
So now the Rock of Raouché is in our view. We will go through the rock, and into a cave, back out, and through the rock again on our way back to the “wharf”.
Okay I know this is getting long. But I just have to mention that all of this would not have been possible if this area, known as Dalieh, were privatized. When I mentioned the fisherman above and said there was more to the story I was referring to the never ending conflict between the public and private. Real estate tycoons want to take over this area and build more resorts, like the one I was photographing over in the second photo in this blog. The fisherman and their storefronts were evicted, and plans for private, high end development are coming.
The group The Civil Campaign to Protect the Dalieh of Raouché talks a lot about this on their website, which I recommend checking out if you are interested in such issues that happen in cities all over the world. Here is their website: http://dalieh.org/# (they have an “EN” button in the upper left to translate). They have great historical photos of the area as well.
Rem Koolhaas, a Dutch architect and founding partner of OMA, is involved in a new proposal for the area. An open letter has been written to him to ask he reconsiders the project. You can also read more about the conflict in these articles:
http://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/mar/17/rem-koolhaas-dalieh-beirut-shore-coast | http://www.beirutreport.com/2014/12/major-project-by-celebrity-architect-revealed-in-dalieh.html
This is a public space, one of the only parts of seafront left untouched by private enterprise in Beirut. About 1 in 5 resorts on the coast of Lebanon have been acquired through illegally sold land (stat from Al Akhbar Newspaper), and the Dalieh is said to be one of them, which is why there is such a huge backlash. Imagine New York City without Central Park. Dalieh is to the Lebanese what Central Park is to New Yorkers. If a private resort is built on this land, the fisherman will have no other place to fish, and will be forced to leave Beirut to find work. Public space informs one’s identity in the city. Conflicts like these remain interesting to me, although frustratingly so. It always seems there is little to be done to stop what the mix of business and politics sets in motion. This example also highlights the role architecture plays in cities, public life, culture, business, politics, etc.
Here are some more photos of the everyday at Dalieh to end this post.