From the top story of the old Holiday Inn, to the overgrown poolside of the Excelsior Hotel, emblems of war and destruction continue to dot the area around Beirut’s rapidly developing downtown. Remnants of a violent era, four yet-to-be renovated, beautiful-turned-battered buildings stand as reminders of Beirut’s violent past.
The Holiday Inn was built by a Kuwaiti-Lebanese company in the early 1970s. During the 1975-1990 civil war, it was used as a battle field in the War of the Hotels. As one of the most fiercely contested locations in all of Lebanon, the building changed hands between Christian and Muslim militias that engaged in floor-to-floors battles.
The hotel, which stands on the edge of downtown Beirut and is marked by bullet and mortar holes, has yet to be renovated. Guards are stationed at 24-hour lookout posts. The area surrounding the Holiday Inn is occupied by high-rises and luxury hotels, and looking north, one can see the St. Georges Hotel, outside of which former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was assassinated in 2005.
The view from on top of the Holiday Inn reveals a developing and glowing cityscape. Remnants of Beirut’s violent history are haphazardly dispersed throughout the city, making for a compelling sunrise.
One might remember the Excelsior Hotel, located in Ain Mreisseh, for the Caves des Roy nightclub, formerly one of Lebanon’s most famous hotspots. The first-floor grounds are now covered in layers of dust and rubble.
The hotel is featured in several scenes from Georges Lautner’s 1967 film La Grande Sauterelle, starring Hardy Krueger and Mireille Darc. The film, a tale of love and money set in Beirut, includes a scene where Lebanese restaurant and nightclub owner Pepe Abed sits at the famous pool reading a newspaper.
The Excelsior’s main entrance is boarded and locked, but a back way in provides access to the hotel’s forgotten garden and pool area.
St. Georges Hotel
The St. Georges Hotel is one of Beirut’s most famous. Built in 1932, the hotel was severely damaged during the civil war. Renovation began in 1996 following the withdrawal of Syrian soldiers from the building, but it was slowed a year later when construction company Solidere gained access to what was the property’s waterfront, making investors skeptical of the project’s value.
It is the site of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s assassination on February 14, 2005. A car bomb exploded outside the building, killing Hariri and 21 others and inflicting $15 million of damage on the hotel’s roadside façade.
The ground floor of the hotel is currently operating as a Yacht Club and Marina, while construction is taking place above.
Semiramis Furnished Apartments
While the Semiramis Furnished Apartment building was never a hotel, it remains as one in the collective memory of locals. Located directly next to the Excelsior, the building is filled with dusty shoes, cardboard boxes and scraps of old newspapers from the early 1990s. Mirrors and bathrooms tiles throughout are shattered and scarred by bullet holes.
When asked about the building, many locals are unsure what exactly it is. One of the building guards said it was the old Four Seasons. But the Four Seasons denies that a hotel building aside from their current one in Beirut ever existed. Others said it was once a hotel, but did not know the name.
In the collective memory of people, it is just another structure that’s been around for ages. It is very much a part of the city’s gone, but certainly not forgotten, glory days.