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LEBANON: Efforts made to save Beirut’s historic architecture

You know things have spiraled out of control when the Minister of Culture himself opens a special hot line for residents to report old buildings and mansions that are threatened with demolition in their neighborhoods.

"Help protect traditional houses in your neighborhood," reads a little slip of paper printed in Arabic, English, and French and handed out  by Lebanese conservation activists.

The statistics are troubling. Officials estimate that a mere 400 out of 1,200 old mansions that were inventoried in the mid-1990s by the Lebanese culture ministry are left, according to Agence France-Presse. In a bid to prevent more mass destruction of Beirut's historic architecture, any demolition order reportedly must now carry the signature of the Lebanese culture minister, Salim Wardy.

Meanwhile, Lebanese conservationists and concerned citizens alarmed by the sight of old Ottoman mansions being flattened  in their neighborhoods recently stepped up efforts to salvage what remains of Beirut's historic architecture and racheted up pressure on the Lebanese authorities to prevent the capital from turning into a concrete jungle in the hands of developers and promoters.

On Saturday night, hundreds of people took to the streets of downtown Beirut for a candlelight walk in support of the city's old architecture and to call for an end to further destruction of historic buildings.

Pascale Ingea, one of the organizers of Saturday's march and a founder of Save Beirut Heritage, told Babylon & Beyond that up to 500 people turned out for the event. For the occasion, she handed out T-shirts bearing  the slogans "Save Beirut Heritage" and "Development Turning Your Past Into Rubble," along with red candles and signs condemning the "Dubaification" of Beirut.

(…) Powerful, politically connected forces are leading the drive to reshape Beirut. Some local officials were reluctant to let Saturday's march go ahead, even though unions, political parties and others regularly hold demonstrations in the city.(…) Beirut's construction boom began at the end of Lebanon's civil war in 1990, and wealthy Gulf Arab investors and expatriates have hiked prices in the Lebanese construction sector, an industry in which accusations of corruption and bribery continue to surface.

The above article was published in The Los Angeles Times on September 28th, 2010.

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