Spaces

Hospitality

In 1974, the hotel district (less than 1 square kilometer), counted 18 hotels, 10 restaurant, 5 bar/night clubs, 6 cabaret and 1 theatre. Most of them were concentrated on Phoenicia Street. In 1974, 645.547 clients stayed in Beirut’s hotels. The average length of stay was 3.5 days [1]. It included the districts of Kantari, Minet el Hosn and Ayn El Mreisse and was also known as “Al-Zaytouna” (the Olive Tree).

Greater Beirut and its hotels. Hotels were concentrated in the historic city centre and to the west of it. Before the war, the area catered to an international public, including foreign functionaries and guests of the many surrounding embassies. Source: Ministry of Tourism. In: Executive board of major projects for the city of Beirut. Comprehensive plan studies for the city of Beirut. 1968.

Greater Beirut and its hotels. Hotels were concentrated in the historic city centre and to the west of it. Before the war, the area catered to an international public, including foreign functionaries and guests of the many surrounding embassies. Source: Ministry of Tourism. In: Executive board of major projects for the city of Beirut. Comprehensive plan studies for the city of Beirut. 1968.

Greater Beirut and its embassies. The great majority was located in the historic city centre and to the west of it, in the Kantari and Minat al Hosn neighbourhoods.Source: Ministry of Tourism. In: Executive board of major projects for the city of Beirut. Comprehensive plan studies for the city of Beirut. 1968.

Greater Beirut and its embassies. The great majority was located in the historic city centre and to the west of it, in the Kantari and Minat al Hosn neighbourhoods.Source: Ministry of Tourism. In: Executive board of major projects for the city of Beirut. Comprehensive plan studies for the city of Beirut. 1968.

Many hotels were of 4 stars category, such as: Cadmos, Holiday Inn International, Phoenicia Intercontinental, Saint Georges, Le Vendome, Alcazar, Excelsior, Martinez, Rodin. There were also several 3 and 2 star hotels such as: Le Beryte, Palm Beach, Perla, Aladdin, Regina, Semiramis, Cigale. While several hotels were part of chains (like Holiday Inn) and other had American names (Palm Beach, Excelsior), many of them had names recalling a certain flavour of the ‘Orient’ (Alladin, Semiramis, Alcazar), and a few were named after Beirut and Lebanon’s Phoenician heritage (Phoenicia, le Beryte, Cadmos).

resizedAlcazar

Traditional hospitality with that Oriental touch…advertisement for Al Cazar Hotel. Source: Beirut. An insider’s guide (1975) by Saker Mistri, Dixie Carey.

International cuisine was not hard to find in Zaytouna. Among the available choice of cuisine were: Arabic, Balkan, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Spanish.

resizedQuo Vadis

Advertisement for the Italian restaurant “Quo Vadis” on Phoenicia Street . Source: Karame, A.N. (1974) L’Indicateur Touristique du Liban.

“Suffice it first to enumerate the cabarets – a dozen and of top-choice -, the stereo-clubs – twenty, well equipped and populated -; even a “jazz club” at the forefront of the scene of the time…and to finally show the largely open reception of this capital city of 500000 souls, here are its 80 hotel and 40 pensions, forming, from the most luxurious to the most intimate, this chain of human sociability that practically defines, for the surprised tourist, the generous shape of Lebanon, at once, LAND OF SUN AND SNOW, and always OF BEAUTY.”[2]

Zaytouna also experienced decline, especially when the value of the land soared in the late 1960s and many independent club and restaurant owners could not keep up with rent and employees wages in front of the advance of international hotel chains like Hilton, Carlton, and Holiday Inn.

The edgy entertainment scene in Al-Zaytouna was portrayed by Antoine Baroud in this report for the magazine Al Hawadess:

Al- Zaytouna, Al Hawadess 901, 31-01-1975. Translated by Imad Aoun.

Hostility

In the Autumn of 1975, the clashes that had started the previous April in the southern suburbs of Beirut, worked their way up north until the city centre and the seaside, where the hotels stood.

Despite several attempts by some Beirut notables to protect the hotel district and its social life from the territorial war between militias, these high-rise buildings became both strategic and symbolic for those fighting.

“Takieddine Es Solh, three times prime minister of Lebanon, summoned his nephew Khaldoun and brooded: ‘Khaldoun, if they [the militias] go for the St George and the rest of the hotels then there is no stopping the conflict. Something must be done to stop the fighting from engulfing this district; after all, the hotels symbolise that Beirut is all about.’ [...] The elegant Phoenicia, Alcazar, Excelsior, and Palm Beach hotels and particularly the St George had come to represent Beirut and all the wealth and sophistication it had possessed; destroying them would mean that there was no going back,  that the warring factions had despaired of finding a peaceful solution”. (Said Aburish, ”The Saint George Hotel Bar“: 1989, page 203. London: Bloomsbury).

Following his uncle’s prompting, Khaldoun es-Solh brokered an agreement with a number of  local militia chiefs and declared the area a no man’s land.  According to Aburish, it was in the Holiday Inn that Khaldoun held regular meetings. Initially, the militia chiefs agreed to maintain the symbolic and economic motor of Beirut intact, but the strategic value of these high towers won over their preservation,

The unfolding of the battle of the hotels (ma’raka al-fanadiq) [3], as documented by newspaper An-Nahar (translated by Imad Aoun):

The battle of the hotels starts

Heavy clashes

The victims

In this video, a resident recalls a time of coexistence before the war. In the absence of a governmental policy on the memory of the war, residents are caught between contested memories and nostalgia for a supposedly trouble-free pre-war ‘togetherness’ and ‘being with each other’.


[1] Karame, A.N. (1974) L’Indicateur touristique du Liban. Edition Francaise

[2] 1974 tourist guide, p. 22. Sara Fregonese’s translation

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_Hotels