Scarred from the relentless passage of time pitted with bombshells and covered with grime forgotten by those who oft pass it by, it rarely is gazed upon by anyone’s eye. Haunted by memories, littered with broken dreams, this old building crumbling down under the weight of its own conscious, stands there as a reminder of dark times passed.
Bullet-riddled and rocket-pierced, the towering building of the Holiday Inn, once a swanky hotel, which opened for business just two years before the Lebanese civil war broke out in 1975, has remained in Beirut’s collective memory, not for its glamour or architectural design, but as a front-line, a demarcation between east and west, and an emblem of war.
The Holiday Inn represented an affluent time for the city. It became part of an era when Lebanon, rightly so, was named the pearl of the Middle East. This hotel, with cinemas and restaurants crowned by a rooftop-rotating restaurant towering over the district, in October 1975, just months into the Lebanese civil war, became part of an epic battle dubbed the war of the hotels. It lasted until March 1976 and mobilized around 25,000 fighters resulting in more than 1,000 dead and 2,000 injured.
As the civil war began to polarize the city into east and west, the two main antagonists, the Lebanese Front (Christian rightwing militias backed by the Lebanese army) and the National Movement (Lebanese leftist parties backed by Palestine’s PLO), raced to capture the district. Seen by militants as a strategic military asset, the Holiday Inn became a trophy in the battle. As the battle to capture it dragged on, this building felt like an unshakable castle. Snipers were positioned on the upper floors and rooftop. Heavy artillery were fired from surrounding rooftops, pounding the Holiday Inn and creating the damage that is still visible today. Shortly after the battle, hordes of scavengers entered the building and stripped it down to its bones. The Holiday Inn was then sold on the streets of Beirut: beds, silver spoons, curtains, and anything that could be carried away with.
Later, after the 1982 Israeli invasion of Beirut in the second phase of the civil war, the building was once again disputed turf, this time between former allies; with the al-Mourabitoun losing control of the building to Amal. These battles were, in a sense, an introvert war fought by these militiamen who turned this city’s streets into an open battleground, a war fought from alley to alley, building to building, one floor to the next, room to room, and column to column.
Nowadays the building’s 24 floors are desolate, shrubs sprout from the concrete floors, the grey moldering walls still bearing scars of countless bullet holes and political graffiti from a bygone era. Blood-curdling stories of storming the building with tanks and bombs were told with fighters rushing up to the roof and throwing each other from the top in what turned the Lebanese capital into a byword for urban dystopia still haunt this place.
In stark contrast with the constant din of central Beirut, silence reigns in the building but for an eerie breeze that whistles through the stairwells populated by memories of a dark past and dreams of a dazzling future. Only the walls remain of this tower of death as a monument of forgotten use, but wind- shelters to generations of beasts and sheep, scarred with the leftovers of forgotten time. This crumbling monument of shortsightedness, its sins will be crushed away in the blink of an eye if they decide to tare it down; no more wars or violence, at least for the short sighted.
To my Beirut, may we never forget…