Beirut: A Multi-Layered City

After the explosion in Beirut on the 4th of August, some say Beirut is gone. Others started different donation campaigns and worked with each other to rebuild the city.

Beirut proved to be a resilient city over the years because it survived several bombing attacks and civil war. This feature turns Beirut into a history book by itself through its culture, art, and architecture. Although historical buildings are fighting in a new war against the fancy world of skyscrapers and their lifestyle, Beirut still has a lot to offer and teach us about collective history.


Neighborhoods of Mar Mikhael and Gemmayzeh are full of old historical buildings. Those streets serve the Ottoman and French mandate periods’ architecture. Gemmayzeh street leads to the Saint Nicholas Stairs, also known as Escalier de l’Art (The Staircase of Art) because several art exhibitions take place on the stairs since 1973.

Walking in the streets of Mar Mikhael and Gemmayzeh reminds Beirut’s glamorous days. These are the remains of a city once called the Paris of the Middle East. Some of those buildings are renovated and turned into art galleries and urban cultural centers in the recent past. However, the bullet trails remain. Also, seeing traces of the past enables people to see its different layers. Beirut becomes a palimpsest for the attentive eyes. Unfortunately, these are the two neighborhoods the explosion most affected.

by Nadina Rahbal from Executive Magazine, Mar Mikhael


Beirut’s Sursock Museum is one of the suffering buildings. This museum was the cultural center of Beirut in the ’60s. Also, its renovation ended only five years ago. Lebanese aristocrat Nicholas Ibrahim Sursock built the private villa. When he died, he bequeathed it to the city of Beirut. It exemplifies Venetian and Ottoman architecture.

Sursock Museum after the explosion by Marie Nour Hechaime, curator at Sursock Museum

Now, not only its buildings but also several artworks are damaged and destroyed from the explosion. The photos of the Sursock Museum and its art collections after the explosion offer us an installation showing how wars, political corruption, and tensions affect our collective culture and art. However, they also give us a chance to understand how we can rebuild Beirut and humankind’s collective history through art.

Sursock Museum after the explosion by Marie Nour Hechaime, curator at Sursock Museum

One of the best examples of it is the Barakat Building, in another name Yellow House. Once, it was a residential building and designed and built by Lebanese architect Youssef Aftimus in the Ottoman revivalist style. The civil war hurt the building severely, and its renovation began in 2012. It has a new name nowadays; Beit Beirut, literally means “the house of Beirut.” It is designed to be a museum and urban cultural center open to the public.

Barakat Building by Geraldine Brunell


Mar Mikhael by Nadina Rahbal from Executive Magazine from

Sursock Museum, copyright from Joe Kesrouani (2015) from

Sursock Museum after the explosion by Marie Nour Hechaime, curator at Sursock Museum from

Barakat Building by Geraldine Brunell from


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