chapter  11
17 Pages

An island in sectarian seas?

Heritage, memory and identity in post-war redevelopment of Beirut’s central district
WithScott Bollens

This chapter examines the rebuilding of the war-torn and divided city centre of Beirut, nearly obliterated by the Lebanese Civil War (1975–90). Based on field research and 24 interviews with private- and public-sector actors in Beirut, it analyses how the reconstruction of the central district, carried out by a private company, confronted issues of heritage preservation in the forms of both pre-war historic memory and contemporary sectarian identity. The chapter pays close attention to the difficult challenges of whether and how to acknowledge the civil war. It examines several contentious heritage sites and places of memory, including the Garden of Forgiveness, Martyrs’ Square and Mohammed Al-Amin Mosque. It is argued that, despite aspirations for neutrality, forgiveness and unification, Beirut’s centre contains emotive imprints of antagonistic and divisive forces that obstruct the redevelopment of the central district as shared public space.