In 1963, Oscar Niemeyer was commissioned by the Lebanese government to design a complex for an international fair. The result, the International Fairground at Tripoli, reflected the government’s desire to establish itself as a progressive, welcoming, and collaborative country in a period of rapid economic growth. The International Fairground was intended to serve as a showcase for Lebanon and signal the modern vision for the country’s development. Considered the face of Lebanese modernism, it came to symbolize the prosperous years before the period of civil war that was to follow.
The large oval-shaped fairground features Niemeyer’s signature minimalist, geometric forms with a vast, open-air pavilion. The complex is based on modern urban planning ideals and an aesthetic similar to that of Brasilia, Niemeyer’s project for the capital of Brazil. Simple concrete forms such as a grand arch, a domed theater, and an elongated low-rise pavilion shape the landscape.
The fairground was abandoned mid-construction at the outbreak of the Lebanese civil war in 1975. After falling into ruin, the fairground was included on the 2006 World Monuments Watch in order to call attention to the years of neglect and deferred maintenance it had experienced. Used for some years by the military, the complex faced development pressures and the threat of demolition, as plans to convert the site into a theme park and tourist destination were discussed.
Since the Watch
The fairground has remained empty and unused. Renamed the Rashid Karameh Fair, in honor of the former Lebanese prime minister, the site continues to suffer, revealing signs of advanced decay, vandalism, and development pressures. Increased tourism and investment in Lebanon add to those pressures. In February 2016, preservationists and local advocacy groups confirmed continuing interest in preserving the complex and in pursuing a nomination for World Heritage inscription for the site.