Several hotels are abandoned, while others carry the signs of the other aspects of the war: internal displacement, squatting, and property disputes.
The hotel district was one of the first areas to become empty with the intensifying of the civil war in 1975 and 1976. In the following phases of the war, the vacated properties of this mostly well planned, even high-quality and fashionable area, were occupied by people displaced from other areas of Beirut or Lebanon. This long-lasting squatting phenomenon led some pockets of this area to further deteriorate into slums.
In this video, Simona Loi and I get guided by two residents into what used to be a hotel (the locals call it “Bellavista”) and then became a Shi’a prayer hall. You can still see part of the lobby, Italian artistic tiles on the wall, and religious graffiti in the makeshift prayer room.
The whole area is characterized by the proximity of good and discrete quality businesses (new hotels, shops selling mobile phones and technology , antiquities, food and drinks) and slum-like pockets. The functioning hotels range from the world-class Radisson blu/Martinez on Phenicia Street, to the Hotel Phoenix and the less upmarket looking Parisian and various furnished apartments for longer stays.
Although the area is a ghost of the pre-war Zaytouna, it hosts some night clubs, bars, restaurants and tattoos studios.
The former hotels area lies just outside the perimeter of the area managed by Solidere, the company in charge of reconstructing the city centre. Very little is known about its future, apart form rumors about land disputes preventing the reconstruction or demolition of the Holiday Inn. Investment is certainly happening in the area, as several construction sites testify.
A parallel future: Zaitounai Bay
What now constitutes post-war Beirut’s new hotel district is just a few hundred metres to the East of the old Al-Zaytouna. Zaitounai Bay, Solidere’s new waterfront leisure area is built on land reclaimed from the sea and hosts high-rise hotels like the Four Seasons and the Marriot. The developers and planners of Solidere have ‘moved’ the geography and the name of the old hotel district away from its original location and into the reclaimed land, and made it part of Solidere’s gentrified urban landscape.
All images © 2010-2012 Sara Fregonese