Lebanese activists seek to save Beirut heritage from neglect
BEIRUT - Lebanese activists have launched a special day to raise awareness about Beirut's cultural and natural heritage, hoping to save it from neglect and frenzied development.
Beirut Watch Day, which started on Thursday and is to run for four days, aims to attract the attention of members of the public and the authorities to protect two sites.
Both the Honein Palace, an example of Ottoman architecture from the 19th century, and Dalieh al-Raoucheh, a rocky headland by the Mediterranean Sea, are listed as endangered by the World Monument Fund (WMF).
The New York-based watchdog placed the sites on its list last year, much to the delight of Lebanese activists.
"The Honein Palace is classified as a historical building, but today it lies abandoned," said Antoine Atallah, deputy head of non-governmental organisation Save Beirut Heritage.
"We want to tell the public about it to push its owners to look after it," he said.
As part of Beirut Watch Day, a market will be held on Saturday in front of the palace, as people cannot visit it, and tours will be offered of the surrounding neighbourhood of Zokak al-Blat.
Sarah Lily Yassine, a member of a campaign to save Dalieh al-Raoucheh, said projects were under development to build hotels and other touristic venues on the iconic outcrop.
"Some parts of it may be privately owned, but according to the 1954 urbanisation plan, nothing should be built there," she said.
She called on the authorities "not to issue a single construction permit for the area".
On Sunday, fisherman from the area will offer boat rides to members of the public as part of activities to encourage Beirut residents to join the fight to save the site.
Activists and those living in the capital have long lamented the rampant pace of new development, at the expense of the city's existing architecture including elegant Lebanese villas.
Despite an economic downturn caused in part by the conflict in neighbouring Syria, a construction boom that began at the end of Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war shows little sign of slowing.
In 2010, the culture ministry said just 400 old mansions and buildings were left in the capital, from more than 1,200 inventoried in 1995.