Saving The Palace of Beirut

Lebanon is a history book in itself. The country is so full of culture that buildings and monuments can tell an extensive tale better than any textbook can. Which is why we adore our beloved country. In a country where lavish buildings are being built by which seems like the minute – it’s always an honor and a relief when we find out that one of our country’s oldest buildings will survive the hit of a wrecking ball. Heneine Palace located in Zokak el-Blat, Beirut has just secured it’s spot on the 2016 World Monuments Watch List and we couldn’t be more thrilled to preserve what is considered one of the most exceptional remaining examples of Ottoman-era palace architecture! So as our usual self we decided a history lesson was needed as well as an up close visual tour of the palace itself. With our nationalist pride in full bloom we grabbed our cameras and made our way to the “highness” itself.173A9094-2

For those of you who don’t know Heneine Palace it used to be a bourgeois garden district just outside the old city walls of Beirut. The palace itself was built in the late 19th century during the last few years of Ottoman rule, when Zokak el-Blat was an area of elite homes surrounded by orchads and gardens. If you pass by it today, or even see pictures of it in the golden days, you realize that the exterior of the palace is quite plain. However, once you take a look inside and hear the long list of guests it made a home for, you would think it’s everything but “plain.” The interior is best described as “Moorish inspired” with fountains, decoration in geometric motifs, and arcades of crenellated arches separating the different spaces of the palace. If you thought some of the fancy hotels in Beirut had a hefty list of influencers staying at their hotels was impressive, take a look at this. The palace was home to the Russian nobleman back in the day that the palace was initially built for. Then, the Mezher family of local landowners rented it to one of the founders of Beirut’s French School of Medicine. Not quite impressed yet? From 1914-1936 Heneine Palace housed the United States Consulate-General. Wait, there’s more. In the late 1940’s the upper floor was rented to the writer, philosopher, and art collector Dr. Dahesh, whose collection of European academic art later formed the basis of New York’s Dahesh Museum of Art! Talk about a historical building housing some serious historical figures.

Like most good things, they come to an end. In 1970 with the marking of the death of the last owner, and the civil war breaking out in 1975, the ground floor of Heneine palace became the home of displaced families who were seeking shelter. By 1990 the last occupants inhabiting the palace were evicted and it has been abandoned ever since. It’s no secret that the dramatic war has left many historical buildings in Beirut to surrender to the never-ending real estate development. But we are happy to see that Save Beirut Heritage believes that these buildings are symbols of what our country has been through, and what it has been able to overcome throughout the history of time.

World Monuments Fund is a private nonprofit organization founded in 1965 by individuals that care about the accelerating destruction of important artistic treasures. On October 15th the fund placed our beloved Heneine Palace on the World Monuments Watch List. Now we have a secure spot for preservation in hopes to rebuild the monumental building for public use so we all can enjoy it!173A9097-2

Staring at the building from afar made us cherish our beloved “history book” city even more and gives us hope that more people are joining the fight for our hidden gems. Well done Beirut, we can’t wait to see what the near future holds for our palace.

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