The center point of Beirut’s city center redevelopment by the French mandate throughout the 1920’s and 1930’s; this urban project converted Beirut’s core into a Haussmannian Paris style plaza.
The city center had been largely demolished by Late Ottoman attempts at introducing hygienic corridors with the opening of the Allenby and Ma’arad streets by 1915. When the French arrived in 1922, Beirut’s center had largely remained vacated and undeveloped. With the designation of Beirut as the capital of the newly formed Greater Lebanon ‘Le Grand Liban’ in 1922, the French authorities set out to consolidate the city center’s circulation within a modernized urban plan. The plan was drafted by Camille Duraffourd and was executed between 1926 and 1933.
The new plaza, which was initially designed to have 8 radiating streets, was truncated by the presence of the historic St. George Greek Orthodox Cathedral, Beirut’s oldest church, and the St. Elias Melkite Catholic Cathedral next to it. When the French initially proposed the plan, the communities surrounding the two churches, as well as the souks behind them which were owned by some of Beirut’s wealthiest families, overwhelmingly rejected the plan and with popular support were able to cancel the construction of the last two streets.
In 1933, Lebanese-Brazilian businessman Michel Abed gifted the new city center the iconic clock tower that currently adorns apex of the star shaped urban form. Facing the clock tower is Lebanon’s Parliament building, an Ottoman structure that was repurposed for the nation-state’s use; the two historic churches, a series of insurance company headquarters and multitudes of restaurants, offices and cafes.
Throughout the Lebanese Civil War, the Place de l’Etoile would become a battlefield around which the war would revolve for 15 years. Following the war, it was renovated by Solidere and re-opened to the public for the first time in 2003.
Kassir, Samir (2003) Histoire de Beyrouth, Fayard, Paris.
Chantal El Hayek, The Last Levantine City : Beirut, 1830-1930, 2015, Paris.