Wednesday, September 16, 2009

One woman's fight to preserve Beirut's architectural heritage


Above: Were it not for the dedication of Lebanese conservationists, the "Yellow House" would long since have been destroyed

"During the reconstruction phase that followed the Lebanese civil war, many important buildings were torn down. Conservationists were, however, able to save a number of individual structures. One of the most important of these buildings is the so-called 'Yellow House', which once belonged to the Barakat family, is closed to the public and largely boarded up," said Martina Sabra, reporter and activist.

The 'Yellow House' remains standing due to the tenacity and dedication of the Beirut architect Mona Hallak. In 1994, she began investigating the house during one of her expeditions with the APSAD, an independent organisation for the protection of historic monuments and buildings. "People were afraid to enter the house because of the possibility of unexploded bombs or mines. But I just had to go in. It was unbelievably fascinating, mainly because it looked as if the inhabitants had just left a few hours previously. One of the flat owners was a dentist. His dentist's chair was still in its place when I entered the house. It was covered with a thick layer of dust, but it was still working. His cupboard drawers contained personal letters from prominent Lebanese politicians," recalls Hallak.

Despite its cultural and historical importance, the house was almost demolished several times in the 1990s. In 1997, Mona Hallak managed to prevent its demolition at the last minute. Now the City of Beirut has big plans for this Art Nouveau building, which is steeped in history: the intention is that by 2012, it will house the first Beirut museum of municipal history, the "Bait Al-Madina" (City House).


Qantara.de

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