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Posted on: 5/7/2007 11:31:00 AM

When bombs pelted Beirut's international airport last year, architect Mazen Haidar could see what was happening from a vantage point - his parent's house situated on a nearby hill. "I went home last summer just days before the Israelis attacked," says the Rome-based Haidar. "We woke up on the morning of 13 July and saw the Israeli jets bomb the runway right below us. Two hours later we left with what we could carry and went up north, to a hotel my parents use in the summer. We stayed there for one month until the fighting was over".

The 2006 conflict between Lebanon and Israel brought renewed destruction to battle-scarred Beirut - a city where reconstruction of war-damaged areas, especially after the 1975-1990 civil war, has resulted in what Haidar calls "the epiphany of forgetfulness."

Structures of brick and mortar, concrete, glass, and steel have risen from the rubble and covered the craters left by the mortar shells.

But they have also buried the city's collective memory, Haidar, 27, argues in his recently published book "Citta' e Memoria".

In it he looks at the lasting impact of war on Lebanon's capital, while co-authors Laura Cipollini and Elmar Kossel examine Sarajevo and Berlin.

"Nowdays people say that central Beirut was totally destroyed in the civil war, but it's not true. It was damaged, but it could have been restored. Instead they took the easiest solution and demolished it in 1990, wiping away with it traces of its modern-day history," Haidar tells Adnkronos International (AKI).

"Coming to Rome 10 years ago was a big change because the city puts all the layers of its history on display."

In contrast, Haidar explains, parts of Beirut are unrecognizable compared with what they looked like just over a decade ago.

"This is true of the city centre in particular. Only the elite area built in the 1920s under the French mandate with its cafes and restaurants was spared the bulldozers. But nothing remains of the aesthetics of the building boom of the 1960s and early 1970s that transformed Beirut from a city moulded in a European style to one that also reflected the rich cultural and religious diversity of Lebanese Muslims and Christians of different rites."

The downtown area bordering the central Martyr's Square epitomises the cultural desolation of new Beirut, according to Haidar, who says it bears the marks of a legacy left by private construction companies that won the post-war tenders.

"Besides the government offices near the Square and some luxury residential buildings, the area is empty. Its space has become a private and political commodity."

"People, many of whom had migrated to the city during the 60s and 70s used to congregate here. Now the dowtown areas have lost that unifying role. The city's expansion has taken on a different form, that of the sprawl. With it have come the suburbs, demarcated into areas separating people according to their religious beliefs."

"Citta e Memoria" is published Bruno Mondadori. An English edition is also planned. (Pwm/Aki)


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