Remembering Beirut on the Persian New Year
Today marks Nowroz – the Persian New Year – which has been celebrated in Beirut’s Dalieh since the 1980s by the city’s Kurdish community. We nominated both the Dalieh, a rich landscape on the city’s main coastal promenade, and Heneine Palace, a remarkable landmark outside the old city walls of Beirut, to the 2016 World Monuments Watch because of significant threats to their future. On this day of celebration, we’re taking the opportunity to revisit another special event for these two sites – Beirut Heritage Watch Day.
In 2017, during Beirut Design Week, our organizations Save Beirut Heritage and the Dalieh Campaign took Watch Day to a new level with a two-week series of activations aimed at bringing awareness to threats to the city’s urban and natural heritage, its coast, and its historic neighborhoods. Beirut Heritage Watch Day commenced at Antwork, a repurposed 1930s mansion and garden in the historic neighborhood of Zarif, and continued in the Zokak el-Blat neighborhood around the Heneine Palace, and at the Dalieh of Raouche on the coast.
Visitors gathered in large numbers at the Orient Institute, adjacent to the Heneine Palace, for a screening of Jocelyne Saab’s film A Suspended Life, partly shot there during the Lebanese civil war. The next day, people flocked to Zokak el-Blat to discover the historic neighborhood through guided walks organized in collaboration with students of Saint Joseph University. Hussein Beyhum Street was closed to traffic and hosted a local produce market. Mansion, a community space, was the center of activity: the multifunctional space built in the 1930s hosted architecture students’ work on the neighborhood, video projections, and physical models produced by younger students for a workshop on cultural heritage. Around sunset, under dimmed lights, the day concluded with readings of works by novelists who had written about the neighborhood.
On the final day of Watch Day activities, city dwellers were invited to join the Dalieh Festival, featuring a wide range of activities celebrating the site and raising awareness for its protection. Boat tours with fishermen and campaign members attracted more than 300 visitors. Children and parents, international and local tourists, and Beirutis all marveled at the Dalieh landscape, its numerous caves and its oral history. “I am 40 years old and I never knew there was something like Dalieh in Beirut,” said one participant. Visitors who chose to remain on land enjoyed a special edition of Souk el Tayeb, featuring local dishes that are served during specific traditional feasts. At twilight, poetry and musical performances took place until late in the evening.
Beirut Heritage Watch Day was an unprecedented effort addressing the city’s coastal landscape and architectural fabric as cultural and natural urban heritage. Its success was a result of the devotion of the Dalieh Campaign and Save Beirut Heritage, our numerous collaborators, donors, press, and the public.
Watch Day may be over, but our work continues. Save Beirut Heritage is developing a new strategy to raise awareness for the protection of Beirut’s threatened heritage, including urging decision makers to adopt a long-awaited Heritage protection law and initiate a change in the ineffective urban regulations within historical neighborhoods. Meanwhile, the Dalieh Campaign recently launched the Lebanese Coast Alliance, which aims to recognize the coast as an economic resource and natural and cultural heritage, and to safeguarded it from violations and privatization.