Beiroet, 1996

Elie Saab

For roughly twenty-five years between 1950 and 1975 – the darkest period in Lebanese architectural history – Beirut’s developers labored to convert an Ottoman jewel of rare beauty into the most hideous high-rise city in the entire Mediterranean. Then for the fifteen years after that, from 1975 to 1990, the Lebanese – with a little help from their friends and neighbors – did their best to tear it all down again, using an impromptu mixture of suction bombs, phosphorus shells, rocket-propelled grenades and Israeli napalm. Yet somehow neither the uncommon ugliness of the post-war development nor the spectacular pockmarked legacy of the bloodbath that succeeded it were quite as surprising as the almost surreal lines of glass-fronted and spotlit couture shops that have recently reopened amid the craters, and which now line the bombed-out boulevards of Hamra, their windows full of the latest creations by the fashion houses of Milan and Paris.

Dit is hoe de Britse schrijver William Dalrymple in 1996 Beiroet beschreef (From the Holy Mountain. A Journey in the Shadow of Byzantium). Het is wat achterhaald, want inmiddels zijn de fashion houses niet langer alleen die van Milaan en Parijs: de foto toont het hoofdkantoor van Elie Saab, een Libanese modeontwerper die de hele internationale jetset lijkt te kleden. De vervallen Ottomaanse huizen, de lelijke naoorlogse hoogbouw, sporen van de burgeroorlog en hypermoderne glaspaleizen zijn daarentegen nog volop te zien.

Later meer over Dalrymple’s boek.