This post is a general overview of architecture in Lebanon as I’ll be going more in-depth as we go along, but I thought it would be an easy start with this one.
The architecture of Lebanon embodies the historical, cultural and religious influences that have shaped Lebanon’s built environment. The Phoenicians, Romans, Byzantines, Umayyads, Crusaders, Mamluks, Ottomans, and French have all had their influence in the building of this country.
Lebanese architecture has one of the longest histories in the world. Archaeological artifacts show Beirut was settled back to the Iron Age (AUB archeological museum). The Phoenicians were already renowned for their construction skills 7000 years ago. Beirut was a city of glory during the Roman era. It then became occupied by different civilizations some of which were the Crusaders in 1109, the Mamluks in 1291 and then Ottomans who stayed in Lebanon for 400 years until 1916. The country then went through a period of French mandate until 1943. During this period European architecture was introduced.
The Phoenicians were the only ones in the region who built homes in stone. Other nations saved stone for temples and tombs, and lived in mud brick houses. They developed the 7-pillar plan. Their stone houses were held by 7 stone pillars: 3 pillars embedded in the stonewall on each side, and the 7th pillar installed smack in the middle, acting as buttress to the 6 pillars by means of wooden bean. Thus, the dictum of “The 7 pillars of wisdom.” The French archeologists Dunant and Pierson explain this usage of the 7 pillars of wisdom as a symbolic example of perfection.
Up until the first half of the 19th century, Beirut was not as significant as other cities along the Mediterranean Sea coast (Tripoli and Damascus) and few pre-19th century landmarks remain apart from some religious buildings. In 1831 Ibrahim Pasha established himself in the city in the wake of his struggle against Ottoman rulers and the toll road to Damascus was constructed in 1863. The city still features modern buildings alongside arabesque Ottoman buildings.
Roman and Byzantine structures are found in the city and Beirut is famous for a group of five columns that were discovered underground in the heart of the city during 1963. The group of columns were traced back and found to be a small part of a grand colonnade of Roman Berytus.
It’s incredible that no more then a couple of meters underground almost anywhere in Beirut, an ancient civilization has left its traces. Beneath this puzzling city and the hustle and bustle of everyday life, there is a wealth of architecture that has made this city what it is. It lies dormant hoping to be discovered. Old cities have a certain magic that mirrors their past and can not be recreated. I truly believe this is why Beirut despite it being a concrete jungle hides a charm that can’t be explained. It’s the building of one city above another, leaving small traces like treasures to be discovered, to create a habitat on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea amongst its little alleys and blue skies.