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The city that refuses to die

Beirut was known for its wild parties and vibrant cultural life. Now the umbrella drinks are gone, but the people are hoping for a new heyday. Before Israel's bombing, Beirut was about to rise. Residents hope the city can again become an economic, cultural and intellectual center in the Middle East.


[Beirut] Wide avenues of sidewalk cafes, theaters, galleries and nightclubs where you could sip dry martinis alongside Hollywood stars like Marlon Brando and Elizabeth Taylor while hearing Ella Fitzgerald sing. Beirut in the 1960s was known for its wild parties and bustling cultural life, and referred to as the Pearl of the Middle East, Middle East Paris and the Arab world's response to Monte Carlo.

- Beirut was absolutely fantastic at that time. When I was on holiday in Norway, I experienced the country as backwards. It kind of hung around a bit. Beirut was much more modern, says Norwegian Alice Ludvigsen, who was born and raised in Beirut.

In the 1960s, Beirut was a modern world city. As a teenager, Ludvigsen participated in the youth uprising in 1968 and went to a concert with Indian guitarist Ravi Shankar. Together with her friends, she arranged parties on the beaches outside the city. The family moved back to Norway in 1970. At that time she was 18 years old. Three years ago, she moved to Lebanon to run a restaurant with her Lebanese husband. Ludvigsen talks warmly about growing up in the multicultural Beirut.

- It was a very open society. This was also part of the pride in Lebanon, that everyone from different ethnic groups and religions got along so well. Then came the civil war in 1975 and destroyed this, says Ludvigsen.

The cradle of Europe

One beautiful morning a Phoenician princess walked and picked flowers on the coast of what is today Lebanon. As she walked there with her maids, the god caught Zev's eye on her from above and fell in love instantly. He took the form of an ox with golden horns and when the girls in the flower meadow saw the bull, they went over to pat it. The princess sat on the bull, which immediately leapt across the Mediterranean, to Crete, where Zeus married her.

The princess from Lebanon was named Europe and named our continent. It is no coincidence that the mythical Europe comes from Lebanon. The area is centrally located in the part of the Mediterranean region that is the origin of the European cultural identity. Today, Beirut is still a city that binds Europe to the Middle East.

The oldest track one has after Beirut is clay tablets from the 1500 century BC. During the centuries that followed, Beirut was under Persian, Greek, Roman, Arabic and Ottoman rule. After World War I, where the Ottoman Empire was one of the losers, the administration of Lebanon was assigned to France.

After independence in 1943, Lebanon began to live up to its historical role as a link between the Arab and Western worlds. The economy grew and Beirut became the Jetsets' favorite city.

The Civil War divided the city into two, a Muslim West and a Christian East. The city was further divided by groups of Shia, Sunnis, Druze, Maronites, Christians and Palestinians who controlled each of their territories. In 1991, the civil war ended, without either party declaring itself a winner. Alice Ludvigsen points out that the civil war revealed deep divisions

in the society.

- The problems have always been there, even in Beirut's heyday. It was just covered over. The civil war did not end, you just got tired of fighting. In retrospect, the population has been a bit confused about what they are really fighting for. "Have we really wasted 15 years?" they ask themselves.

In 2000, Israel withdrew from Lebanon after occupying the southern part of the country

since 1982.

- There was a feeling of reconciliation between the groups, especially after 2000, says Lebanese Valia Jadaa, who lived in Beirut for three years before she moved to Norway six months ago to work as a teacher.

She talks about the joy of being able to travel freely around Lebanon.

- People could visit each other. An entire generation of people in the north had not been in southern Lebanon because Israel occupied the area. In the south, people were locked up by the occupying forces. People finally had the opportunity to move freely.


Last year, Beirut was shaken by the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and a series of bomb explosions. The events led up to the so-called cedar revolution in 2005, which ended many years of Syrian dominance in the country.

Jadaa talks about how people started caring for their gardens and being concerned about the environment and pollution. Things you don't think about when there is war. Beirut again became a city of vibrant cultural activity and nightlife.

- The atmosphere in the last three years has in many ways been similar to that in the 1950s and 60s. Before the assassination of the Prime Minister, the mood in Beirut was as I think it was before the Civil War. There was a variety of cultural activities, such as theater, exhibitions, in addition to people starting to go to restaurants and take part in the nightlife. Even walking through the old streets of Beirut gave you a picture of what it looked like in the past, says Jadaa.

After the cedar revolution, tourism began to pick up again. Travel and Leisure magazine named Beirut the ninth best city in the world. The decadent party life and the liberal atmosphere from before the revolution began to return. In May, the American hip-hop star held a 50 Cent concert in town, and a solid nachspiel was arranged at the Crystal nightclub, where the champagne floated and the rapper openly smoked the joint.

A month ago, everything suddenly came to an end. Beirut again became the center of world attention. After Hezbollah kidnapped two Israeli soldiers on July 12, Israel launched a massive military campaign against Lebanon, which in turn has destroyed both Beirut's housing and cultural life.

Cinema halls were turned into makeshift refugee camps, concerts were canceled and commercial radio channels broadcast news 24 hours a day. The cruise ships that previously transported tourists to Lebanon were instead used to evacuate those on vacation when the war broke out.

With some of the country's finest Roman ruins as a backdrop, the Baalbeck International Festival was to celebrate its 50th anniversary this year. Domenico Donizetti's opera Lucia de Lammermoor was to be performed by the Budapest Symphony Orchestra, the Opera in Nice, the St. Petersburg Ballet Theater and the National Diva Fairuz, who throughout the Civil War refused to sing a tone to the audience. Plans went in the sink when Israeli fighters repeatedly bombed the city of Baalbeck, located a short distance east of Beirut.

Jadaa tells about the village she comes from, Ebel el-Saki. The same day I talk to her, the city is bombed by Israeli planes. Her parents are on the run and she is worried about how things are going.

- I tried to get in touch with them and did not know where they were.

Fortunately, Jadaa eventually got in touch with her parents, but it is uncertain when they can return to the village. Jadaa is stated

over the devastation after several years of recovery

reconstruction work.

- After the civil war, almost all the buildings were pierced. Before Israel attacked, most of the buildings had been repaired. Now it is even worse than it was after the Civil War.

Formerly the buildings had wounds after the war, now they are level with the earth. Alice Ludvigsen's and her husband's restaurant is without customers. She has excitement in her voice and thinks about how things will go forward.

- In the future, it can go brilliantly or it can go wrong. Lebanon has managed to work through

all conflicts, but in this area one can

don't foresee anything.

A fragile truce has been agreed between the parties to the ongoing conflict. Having lived through civil wars and invasions in the past, the inhabitants of Beirut are accustomed to destruction. They have also shown an exceptional ability to quickly rebuild the city. Jadaa tells the younger generation

is optimistic.

- I do not know how long it will take before there is a solution to the conflict, but I know that the Lebanese will be able to rebuild Beirut and Lebanon again. The city still deserves the name Middle East Pearl. Even when it was mined, Beirut was the pearl, she says.

The future will show whether Europe's homeland can have a new heyday.

Written by Mikal Hem for Ny Tid

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