The Story Behind The Monument That Existed In Martyrs’ Square Before

Beirut Had A Different Martyrs' Monument In The Past
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The Martyrs’ Monument that stands in Beirut’s central square today is an icon of Lebanon’s history.

However, it was not the first monument to be built in the memory of the 1916 martyrs; here’s the story of the first Martyrs’ Square monument.

To commemorate the Lebanese nationals who were coldly executed by the “Bloodthirsty” Ottoman military leader Jamal Pasha, pre-independence Lebanon wanted to erect a monument in the site of their execution in Beirut.

The inauguration of the first sculpture for this cause took place in 1930, 14 years after the executions. Youssef Howayek, a Lebanese painter and sculptor from Halta, took charge of creating the monument.

Howayek’s limestone monument portrayed two Lebanese women, a Muslim and a Christian, holding hands over an urn that symbolized the ashes of each of their martyred children.

The sculptor opted to carve the Islamic Shahada (لا إله إلا الله) and a small cross, respectively on the two women’s chests, and the monument later became known as The Weeping Women (Les Pleureuses).

Despite its representation of solidarity, the monument, which was commissioned by the French Mandate authorities, was very unpopular among the Lebanese due to the way it depicted the mothers’ grief over a cremation urn.

Incidentally, a man attacked and damaged it with a hammer in 1948.

Nonetheless, The Weeping Women remained in Martyrs’ Square well after Lebanon gained its independence, before being finally removed in 1953.

Since 1993, it has been displayed outside the Sursock Museum in Beirut.

The iconic bronze Martyrs’ Monument that characterizes Beirut’s central square today only filled the void left by its predecessor eight years after its removal.

In 1960, President Fouad Chehab inaugurated the modern 4-meter-high statue.

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Martyrs Square represents the complexities which make Lebanon so fascinating. The square is named in honor of the people who were executed for resisting Ottoman rule during World War One. The statue which honors the victims was damaged during the civil war when this square marked a dividing line between the two sides. The damage to the statue was intentionally preserved after the end of the war (if you look closely, you can see holes and a missing arm from bullets and shrapnel). Behind the statue is the most important mosque next to the most important church. While religious divisions added to the tensions during the war, the two buildings stand peacefully next to each other in the cultural center of the city. If the history of the last 100 years isn’t enough to make this place special, directly next to these two buildings are the ruins of the Roman Forum showing that the cultural center of Beirut hasn’t moved in 2000 years. Two of the most important empires in history, civil war, reconciliation, peaceful coexistence of religions- this place is amazing. The protestors I mentioned in my previous post recently built a giant Phoenix in this square after counter-protestors burned a symbolic fist the protestors had installed on Lebonon’s Independence Day. The fist and Phoenix represent the hope Lebanese people have for their future as Muslims and Christians work together to improve the country they share. #Beirut #Lebanon #MartyrsSquare #MartyrsMonument #mosque #church #RomanForum #history #civilwar #martyrs #reconciliation #unity #peace

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