Category Archives: Old Lebanon

The Rails That Built Lebanon

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train1 Train Stockyard in Tripoli

Here’s a nice [article] by Nicolas Photiades on how the private railroad network helped boost Lebanon’s economy in the late 19th century, and how the best way today to bring back the trains is by re-privatizing the network just like the DHP (Damas-Hama Prolongement), the company that operated the railroads for both Lebanon and Syria back in the 1950s.

Back in the mid-19th century, the so-called French Road was the only way inhabitants of Beirut – numbering about 60,000 – could trot or gallop their way to Damascus and trade goods with its 150,000 denizens. Then the only paved road in the near East, the route won international renown for its essential role in driving economic growth in the two cities and the Levant generally, cutting the amount of time it took to travel between them to 13 hours from four days. The Sublime Porte conceded the road in 1856 to Count Edmond de Perthuis, a former navy officer who was living in Beirut, for him to exploit and operate for 50 years. At the time, Lebanon’s road link to neighboring countries was very poor and inefficient, and a traveler would take huge risks when journeying to relatively far-away places such as Damascus.

But the French Road soon reached maximum capacity, and as the 50-year lease was nearing its end, the highway and the Port of Beirut that it helped prosper came under threat by the Ottomans’ first rail concession in the region, which was granted to a British firm for the Haifa-Damascus line. This prompted the French, who feared that the British initiative would rob Beirut of its place as a regional commercial center in favor of Haifa, to ask for their own Beirut-Damascus rail concession. Hoping to avoid being beaten by their British rivals, who had a few months’ head start, the French forced their workers to slave round the clock and through the winter in the snowy mountains to finish the rail line quickly. The first trains on both lines – and the first in the region – made their inaugural journeys to Damascus in August 1895, likely within months of each other. That further trimmed the 147-kilometer trip from Beirut to Damascus to less than nine hours.

The new lines brought about significant benefits. They stimulated commercial and industrial activity throughout the regions where the rails passed and gave Beirut’s port huge importance as a regional hub. Rails were also at the origin of the development of the Bekaa wine industry, with the French Brun family becoming the first to establish its wineries there. The rail also helped significantly boost tourism and put Lebanon on the map worldwide as one of the most modern and innovative countries in the Middle East.

Later on, during the Second World War, Lebanese railways were extended to include a coastal line from Haifa to the Syrian border in the north, going through Tripoli. With this latest addition to the existing network, it became possible for Lebanon to be linked directly to the rest of the region and to Europe. It was this new line and its link to the Orient Express that allowed my uncle to travel to Nazi-occupied Paris in 1944 to present his doctorate thesis on railways in the Levant. [Link]

Hashem el Madani, Akram Zaatari and Saida’s Studio Shehrazade

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All Photos taken by Madani – via BBC

Lebanese Photographer Hashem el Madani has been taking pictures of Saida’s inhabitants over five decades and his archive contains some pretty unusual portraits like the one below. Apparently, it was common in Saida and probably in Lebanon in the 1950s to reenact movie scenes like a fight or a kiss, as long as it’s a kiss between two people from the same sex as the society was a conservative one. In the 1960s and 1970s and following the turbulent politics of the time, it became popular to pose with a gun. Madani even says that following Egyptian President Jamal Abdel Nasser’s death, it became fashionable to take pictures while acting sad. Baqari’s wife is one of the few pictures that caused Madani trouble.

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This pretty awesome archive was picked up by Lebanese video artist and curator Akram Zaatari, who described Studio Shehrazade as a “trove of buried treasure” and decided to partner with Madani and show his photographs to the whole world. He feels that he’s writing history through Madani’s pictures. Zaatari is also a co-founder of The Arab Image Foundation who contains more than “600,000 historic images of daily life in the Middle East, North Africa and the Arab diaspora”.

Madani is now 86 years old but doesn’t believe in retirement.

“Staying at home makes you bored and tired,” he says. “During the day I go to my studio and reminisce about the past. I am nostalgic and I want to relive those days. I much preferred it back then. I used to sleep for about four hours a day, and the rest of the time I would be working”. He still occasionally takes photographs, now on a digital camera.

He is proud to have been chosen for Zaatari’s research and happy that his work continues to be seen. He has accompanied the artist to major international exhibitions, but the project that has meant most to him personally is the Hashem el Madani Walking Itinerary in the old city of Saida where framed portraits of shopkeepers taken in the 1950s were “returned” to the original shops. “I would have liked to photograph all the residents of Saida, because this is where I live,” he told Zaatari.

Two young men from Aadloun. Studio Shehrazade, Saida, Lebanon, 1966. Hashem el Madani 2007 by Akram Zaatari born 1966

I am from a village near Saida yet I have never heard of this place. I will ask about it next time I visit and I hope they will turn Studio Shehrazade into a museum. If you are interested in checking out more pictures, click [Here].

You can check out the full BBC article on Madani and Zaatari [Here].

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Baqari’s wife (Here’s the story behind it: She took pictures without her husband’s permission. As a result he asked Madani to destroy the negatives but he only scratched them. Sadly though, the wife killed herself few years later, and the husband came back asking for prints from the photo shoot)

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Madani and Zaatari

Lebanon – 1969

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1969

Political crisis, No government and soon no president, Syrian involvement, weak Lebanese army, refugees and armed clans. All these were back in 1969 and are now present today. I am keeping my hopes up that it’s just a temporary phase and not the start of a new deadly civil war.

Watch the full report [Here].

«Cette semaine, alors que l’ONU institue officiellement le tribunal international chargé de poursuivre et juger les assassins de l’ancien Premier ministre libanais Rafik Hariri, la situation politique libanaise semble de plus en plus fragile.

Ce reportage d’une équipe de Temps Présent dans le Liban de 1969, sept ans avant la guerre civile, est intéressant à plus d’un titre et présente certaines similitudes avec la situation actuelle: crise politique, paralysie institutionelle, implication de la Syrie, pressions militaires israéliennes, faiblesse de l’armée nationale, ambiguïté sur la présence des fedayinns palestiniens dans les camps de réfugiés. Ces images exceptionnelles montrent bien l’ambiance de veillée de guerre qui va agiter le Liban durant des années, encouragée par des politiques jusqu’au boutiste et un accroissement du rôle des milices para-militaires à caractère confessionnel.

20 Pictures Of Al Sa’eh Library in Tripoli Before It Got Torched

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Picture via Natheer Halawani

A lot of people haven’t unfortunately heard about this decades-old library in Tripoli up until it got torched today, so I did some research and pulled out old pictures and information about the library and its owner Greek Orthodox Priest Ibrahim Sarrouj.

Al Sa’eh Library was founded in 1970 by the Orthodox Youth movement and consisted of a single room. Few years later, the library published around 10 books. In the early 1980s, they gradually started releasing Orthodox publications. In 1983, Samir Makhoul, Toni Boulos, Ibrahim Sarrouj decided to expand the library and bought the warehouse next to it.

Nowadays, the library has over 80,000 books (not copies), out of which 400 rare books. One of the oldest book in this library according to Father Sarrouj is one that dates back to 1817 written by an American Colonel and is estimated at around $3,000. Speaking of Father Sarrouh who’s a highly esteemed and respected individual in Tripoli, he has shown great interest in Islamic Studies despite being a Greek Orthodox.

The loss of this library is a huge one for Tripoli and Lebanon as a whole. I wish officials would have taken the necessary precautions to preserve it and protect it from the assholes who burned it down.

Sources Used for Pictures and Information:
Dustywyndow.blogspot.com
TripoliScope.com
Mo5tar.com
eiwonder.blogspot.com

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New old footage of Lebanon

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The Huntley Film Archives have digitized and uploaded some more old footage from Lebanon and uploaded them onto YouTube. Some of them have details like their dates but most don’t and none have any sound. Check them out below:

Lebanese women, 1968. Film 90723 (Posted above)
Lebanon. Lebanese women walking in town. Film 90724
Lebanon. Women bake bread., 1960’s. Film 90725
Lebanon. Roman remains. Streets of modern village Archaeology Film 90712
Lebanon. Ploughing with oxen. Farming. 1968. Film 90711
Lebanon. Sidon. City with harbour or port. Cafe, 1968. Film 90710
Lebanon. Village. 1968. Film 90720
Lebanon. Old man. Film 90721
Lebanon. Countryside. Hills. 1968. Film 90719
Lebanon. Bay, port. Mosque. Shepherd. 1968. Film 90718
Lebanon, Baabda – hillside town. Picking oranges, 1968. Film 90709