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Beirut, A Culture Shaped by External and Internal Conquests.



Beirut, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, is believed to be populated as early as 3000 BC. Throughout time various foreign powers, from the Ottoman Empire to the French, reigned over the ancient city thus shaping what is today known as modern-day Beirut. The effect of foreign influence is clearly evident in the urban landscape, not only physically but also culturally. Although there are structures that are around 5,000 years old, “in early 1990’s Lebanon, there existed virtually no public infrastructure for the arts, no contemporary art museums, and no official institutions of culture that might have been prepared to sponsor and advance contemporary art practices.” Hence, Beirut’s cultural vibrancy was heavily shaped socially, economically and culturally by its recent history, the civil war, as much as its ancient past.


Beirut is home to 134 cultural infrastructure points, which can be categorized as a pre-civil war and post-civil war. All of the 13 “sites and landmarks”, except the Vendome Stairs, can be traced backed before 1990 as they are archaeological sites and structures that date back thousands of years. Although the Vendome Stairs is the only “site and landmark” that emerged after the civil war, it “stand[s] as one of the surviving landmarks in Beirut, a shared public space that different activists and civil society organizations have fought to preserve over the years.” The 12 other “sites and landmarks” illustrate the diversity of Beirut as they are a mixture of ruins that were leftover from the Roman Empire’s rule, mosques that were built during the Islamic era and cathedrals that date back to the Byzantine empire. Out of the 12 “libraries” in Beirut, eight of them were established pre-civil war. Furthermore, one library, the Oriental Library, was founded back in 1875. In this case, the literary history of Beirut has had a profound influence on the modern city as it was named by UNESCO the World Book Capital in 2009.



Although the city pre-civil war had a diverse cultural landscape, the “museums” in Beirut symbolizes the shift that the city undertook post-1990. Four of the seven “museums” in Beirut were founded after the civil war, as they either were established to promote contemporary art or to celebrate Beirut’s rich history. For instance, one of the “museums”, AUB Archeological Museum, is the third oldest museum in the Middle East, whilst the Beirut Museum of Art established in 2008 focuses more on modern art. Out of the 27 “galleries” in Beirut, only one was established before the civil war. The same goes for the “culture and art centers” of Beirut, as all 33 were founded after the civil war. While the “sites and landmarks” and “libraries” of Beirut showcase the city’s rich and diverse history, the “galleries” and “culture and art centers” emerged after the war as the “work [after the war] was being produced out of a sense of urgency and not as a response to an art market.”


In terms of innovation clusters, Beirut has a total of 14. As a city of 233 square kilometers. Beirut has one “urban district”, called Beirut Digital District (BDD). The “urban district” further exhibits the relationship between historic Beirut and post-civil war Beirut, as BDD is situated right next to an archaeological site, while its vision is to “develop self-sustaining innovative neighborhoods, where technology and brainpower seamlessly integrate, allowing for creative communities to flourish.” Historical conquests, like the French colonial mandate, and recent events, like the civil war, have both played a vital role in shaping the cultural vibrancy of Beirut.



Researched and written by Yasmena AlMulla, Azza Elhassan & Wakim Zeidan The research was concluded in December 2019

SOURCES

  1. Faour, Ghaleb, and Mario Mhawej. “Mapping Urban Transitions in the Greater Beirut Area Using Different Space Platforms.” Rep. Mapping Urban Transitions in the Greater Beirut Area Using Different Space Platforms. 2014. Beirut, Lebanon: National Center for Remote Sensing, National Council for Scientific Research (CNRS), 2014. https://www.mdpi.com/2073-445X/3/3/941.

  2. “IDAL - Lebanon at a Glance - Invest in Regions - Beirut Governorate.” IDAL.COM. Accessed March 6, 2019. https://investinlebanon.gov.lb/en/lebanon_at_a_glance/invest_in_regions/beirut_governorate.

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  5. Jehl, Douglas. “Under Beirut’s Rubble, Remnants of 5,000 Years of Civilization.” The New York Times. The New York Times, February 23, 1997. https://www.nytimes.com/1997/02/23/world/under-beirut-s-rubble-remnants-of-5000-years-of-civilization.html.

  6. Toukan, Hanan. “ON BEING THE OTHER IN POST-CIVIL WAR LEBANON: AID AND THE POLITICS OF ART IN PROCESSES OF CONTEMPORARY CULTURAL PRODUCTION.” Arab Studies Journal 18, no. 1 (Spring, 2010): 119-162. http://ezalumni.library.nyu.edu:2048/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.alumniproxy.library.nyu.edu/docview/927043444?accountid=33843.

  7. The civil war began in 1975 and ended in 1990.

  8. Merlo, Veronica. “Beirut’s Historic Landmarks between Resilience and Destruction: the Case of Vendome Stairs.” Beirut Today, August 14, 2019. http://beirut-today.com/2019/08/14/vendome-stairs/.

  9. AFP. “Beirut Is This Year’s World Book Capital.” France 24. France 24, April 25, 2009. https://www.france24.com/en/20090425-beirut-years-world-book-capital-.

  10. “Archaeological Museum.” American University of Beirut. AUB. Accessed December 30, 2019. https://www.aub.edu.lb/museum_archeo/Pages/default.aspx.

  11. Toukan, Hanan. “ON BEING THE OTHER IN POST-CIVIL WAR LEBANON: AID AND THE POLITICS OF ART IN PROCESSES OF CONTEMPORARY CULTURAL PRODUCTION.” Arab Studies Journal 18, no. 1 (Spring, 2010): 119-162. http://ezalumni.library.nyu.edu:2048/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.alumniproxy.library.nyu.edu/docview/927043444?accountid=33843.

  12. Faour, Ghaleb, and Mario Mhawej. “Mapping Urban Transitions in the Greater Beirut Area Using Different Space Platforms.” Rep. Mapping Urban Transitions in the Greater Beirut Area Using Different Space Platforms. 2014. Beirut, Lebanon: National Center for Remote Sensing, National Council for Scientific Research (CNRS), 2014. https://www.mdpi.com/2073-445X/3/3/941.

  13. Webneoo. “Our Story.” Beirut Digital District, February 27, 1970. http://beirutdigitaldistrict.com/our-story.




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