You might not have heard of the fabled gates of Beirut that once separated the city from the other parts of the country. Believe it or not, they are not fables to begin with. there was a time where our lovely capital was protected and surrounded by a wall, which takes us on a journey into uncovering the 205 year story of how Beirut escaped these confined spaces.
The gates grew to be an amazing traditional part of old Beirut that is still known to this day, but most of them had been completely wiped out which only leaves us with their tales. There were families who kept a close eye on these gates and were tasked with holding the keys, opening the gates in the morning, and closing them at night. It took nearly seven decades to abandon that wall, open up the city to everyone, and become the touristic attraction that we all know and love.
Bab Edriss – One of the gates of Beirut
Our story goes back to 1800 when the thought of tearing down that wall first began. Not many people were excited about it, as it was built to watch over the area to keep social interactions between the inside and the outside as little as possible. At that time, they preferred it that way but once the wall was destroyed, Beirut became a different place.
Before the city grew out of its shell, The mosque of Mohammad Al-Amin that you see today in Riad Al Soleh used to be the heart and center of the district. It was used as a learning area to pass down knowledge to their families. Now, Beirut has grown to be a part of a few suburb areas surrounding it and its center had changed. As more people began to love the idea of a free city, they would continue to allow citizens from outside to visit. This grew to a great movement that finally allowed Beirut to abandon its limits. When the wall was destroyed, people had more freedom to build and expand their structures. This was where the Beirut-Damascus road came to life in the 1860s and the port was founded in the 1880s.
Port of Beirut
One of the gates, at that time was known as Bab Kharija, which cannot be seen today. Not many people have heard of it, but the story of the famous Ottoman building, Petit Serail that was built in Martyr’s square, revolved around this gate. We can only hear of the existence of Bab Kharija because of this structure that was also destroyed later on with the plans to further expand Beirut.
Le Petit Serail
For some time, the gates were left as they were. Four of those gates, Bab Al Dirka, Bab Al Santiya, Bab Al Dabbagha, and Bab Al Serail were used as landmarks for years after the wall had been destroyed. As time went on, the city hadn’t seen any use for them and had constructed residential buildings instead. One of the gates still remained standing but is now used as a door to few residential and government buildings. You can see this gate standing in Achrafieh, but of course it was slightly fixed to give it a newer feeling.
Remains of a gate in Ashrafieh
Sadly, there are not that much evidences left to show the story of the other gates such as Bab Yaacoub that covered the eastern side of Beirut and Bab Abu Nasr at Bourj Square. Whereas Bab Idriss is still a place that is highly visited, though there are no remains of the gate.
Painting of Bab Yaacoub
Bab idriss – 1948, years after the destruction of the wall
With all these tales of Beirut’s historical gates, it was hard to imagine the city inside the limits of a wall. Though, we know that it was placed to guard the capital as much as possible, but once it got torn down we can’t deny that the country had evolved into a beautiful and famous part of the world.