Beirut Central District

The Beirut Central Distrct

Located at the historical and geographical core of the city, the vibrant financial, commercial and administrative hub of the country, the Beirut Central District or 'Centre Ville' came under fire from all sides throughout most of the 16 By the end of the war, this area of the city had been afflicted with overwhelming destruction and total devastation of the infrastructure. A master plan for reconstructing the city was officially approved by the Council of Ministers in March of 1994, after a series of detailed studies and public and professional seminars and on May 5, 1994, Solidere, The Lebanese company for the development and reconstruction of Beirut Central District was formed, launching the largest urban redevelopment project of the 1990s.

The main features of the master plan were the reintegration of the Central District within the metropolitan area of Beirut, the preservation of the historical core of the city, the development of a mixed-use zone on reclaimed land, the reconstruction of the old Souks, the preservation of the residential neighborhoods of Saifi, Mar Maroun and Zkak al Blat, the development of a seaside park on a former landfill zone, and the integration of archeological finds into modern developments.

Today the Beirut Central District has regained its attractiveness as the restoration of many of its buildings has been completed. Of particular note is the area around Foch-Allenby which has a historic and diversified architecture, characterized by facades decorated and sculpted from yellow stone, inspired Ottoman, Italian, and French styles. Elegant wrought iron works add beauty to their balconies and facades. Permanent and temporary activities are now merging in Beirut city center, much to the enjoyment of young and old. The Souk al Barghout flea market has been drawing large crowds of people who spend the long evenings shopping, or browsing through the wonderful array of antiques, paintings, jewelry, handicrafts and carpets, on display in the various shops and stalls in and around the beautifully restored buildings. Residents, returnees and visitors are thus reclaiming the city center's open space, walking, jogging, riding bicycles in addition to shopping or resting in public gardens. Indoor and outdoor restaurants and charming cafes and pubs have opened throughout the distrct where residents and visitors can enjoy themselves well into the night.

The gradual occupation of restored and new buildings, accompanied by a number of street events and open-air activities, are adding vibrancy to the traditional city center. Tree-lined streets, garden squares and pedestrian areas create a pleasant environment and provide a breathing space for visitors and workers alike. The Ghalghoul garden facing UN House was designed in a formal manner to indicate its eminence as an entry to the city center. It integrates features of the city's historic core such as granite stone paving with oak, bay and willow trees, typical of the Beirut landscape.

The Grand Serail

Particularly hit during the Lebanon war, the Serail was a scarred site at the end of the hostilities. Its renovation to its present state of grandeur is a symbol of the vision and challenge involved in the reconstruction of Beirut.

The Grand SerailToday, the Grand Serail is a blend of heritage architecture with a modern interior and high-tech amenities. A faithful adaptation of the original Ottoman structure resulted in a larger, more functional building. The external walls were completely restored and stone from demolished buildings was used in the additional floor, thereby preserving a homogeneous facade. All contracting and handicrafts, including stone, marble, steel or carpentry works, were carried out by Lebanese firms.

The Serail covers 40,000 sq. m of floor space. Two upper floors comprise the Prime Minister's residence and office, offices for his staff, as well as the cabinet room and ministers' offices. The ground floor consists of a banquet hall, two receptions areas, a press room and a courtyard. Finally, an underground level includes a car-park, offices and rooms for personal.

This historic building has earned its eminence through successive roles which it held since 1832, representing important milestones in the history of Beirut and Lebanon. After his short-lived victory over the Ottomans in 1832, Ibrahim Pasha stationed his troops on the hill surrounding the present Serail, as it overlooked the city. Build by the Ottomans in the 1853, the Serail was the seat of the wali. In 1920, it became  the headquarters of the French Mendate high commissioner, and in 1926, the seat of government. 

Commanding a superb view of the sea and mountains, the Serail hill is crowned by two Ottoman buildings, the Grand Serail and the Council for Development and Reconstruction, separated by a square adorned with an Ottoman clock tower.

Below the hill and to its north, the Serail corridor constitutes, together with the hotel district, a major component in the extension of the traditional BCD toward the new seafront. The planning of these sectors sets limits to the building heights in order to preserve the vista from the Serail hill and throughout the sectors. Several projects are already under way in the mixed-used area, including hotels, office buildings and banks, one of which are the Audi Bank headquarters.

To the north-west of the Serail lies the residential Wadi Abou Jamil neighborhood. To the east, Riad El Solh street, known as banking street, is separated from the Serail by the Roman Baths and Rue des Capucins. To the south UN House and the headquarters of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), will mark the southern entrance to the BCD.

Most of central Beirut's many Churches and Mosques have been restored The Maronite St George cathedral was reopened after four years of restoration work, following a 25-year closure due to damage during the war. The consecration and inauguration ceremony took place on St George's Day on April 24th 2000, also Easter Monday.

The city center is also a focus of financial activity, with quality establishments ranging from banks to insurance companies and other financial institutions. Their counterpart in public institutions is of the highest caliber: the Prime Minister's offices, the Ministry of Finance and the Council for Development and Reconstruction. On the international level, the United Nations agencies, grouped in UN House, were joined by the World Bank's permanent Beirut office. The financial cluster has traditionally been in and around Riad El Solh street, also known as Banking street. The area comprises the Arab Bank headquarters and branches of  Atlantico, Beirut Riyad, Berliner, Byblos, Crédit Agricole, Crédit Libanais, de l'Habitat, de l'Industrie et du Travail, du Liban et d'Outre-Mer, Libanaise pour le Commerce, Libano-Française, Misr Lebanon, North Africa, di Panama, Pharaon and Chiha, Société Générale Libano-Européenne, and Banque de Syrie et du Liban.

The city center has witnessed an expansion of its financial district both in the scope and location. The Arab African Bank has moved to its new building on Riad El Solh street. Assicurazione Generali has recuperated its building, and additional insurance companies include Arab Reinsurance, medgulf, Assurex and UFA Assurances. With activities overflowing to the additional areas, Foch-Allenby will house such banks as Bank of Beirut, Crédit National, Lebanon and Gulf, Méditerranée, Misr Lebanon, Saudi Lebanese and Société Bancaire. Jordan National Bank will be in the late Ottoman Tanios and Massoud building in Bab Idriss, along Weygand street. The nearby Bank Audi headquarters, strategically facing Park Avenue, heralds another extension of the banking district towards the newly planned sectors of the city center. Further north, Middle East Capital Group is proceeding with its new development.

A new waterfront, destined to enhance the international character of the Beirut city center is emerging. Curling around three sides of the 61-ha laimed land peninsula, it stretches over 1.5 km, providing an uninterrupted extension of the existing Beirut shoreline. The waterfront is the scene of intense development activity. As the waterfront is gradually endowed with two marinas, seaside promenades, a scenic drive (the Corniche) and a 72,000-sq public park, it is expected to host exciting on-land and nautical activities, centered around these and other facilities to be developed on the new land. The Four Seasons hotel and Marina Tower luxury residential complex, the Consolidated Contracting Company regional headquarters and the Middle East Capital Group and Lebanon Invest mixed-used towers, are among the first such facilities.

Marine works comprise the construction of a marina on the St George bay (the Western Marina), together with a substantial structure, involving a breakwater and two defense lines, for the protection of the marina and the new land. The defense structure is specially designed to preserve the sea view and permit public access to the waterside. The progress achieved in construction offers a tangible idea of what the project will look like upon completin. The 80 caissons forming the second defense line are already in place, and civil works have advanced considerably in the three-level promenade over the caissons. The first defense line is under reclamation with rocks and fill materials.

Planned to accommodate around 500 boats, it will be the focal point of leisure activities on the new waterfront. With civil works for the breakwater and mooring quays finished, the marina structure is now clearly delineated.  It involves a clubhouse, a restaurant with a landscape terrace, a swimming pool, tennis courts, and service facilities such as showers, offices and a car park. All of these will be accessible directly  from the Corniche. In another section of the marina, a public quay will accommodate a diversity of shopping and food kiosks, as well as facilities to host exhibitions.

With the completion of the work in around 2005, Beirut is sure to retake its place amongst the leading cities of the world.