Many of us remembered that era for having lived it, but many more of us who were born during the war and thereafter did not come to know how Lebanon was like, especially our beloved capital Beirut.
Following the French Mandate after World War II, the Lebanese capital became a tourist destination and such a notable hub of vibrant cultural, social, and artistic life that it was labeled Paris of the Middle East.
In the fifties, Beirut entered its golden era. For 20 years, our capital was a center of international trade and regional finance, and also of education, communication, shipping, and transportation.
In 1973, it was described by Fortune Magazine as one of the most beautiful hotels in the world. Unfortunately, during the civil war, the hotel was destroyed and occupied. Until now, it’s on hold, and every person who knows the history of this hotel is waiting for its re-opening.
Before the civil war, the infamous Hamra street was once known as the Champs-Élysées of the city of Beirut. It was renowned as the Middle East’s most dynamic area filled with fashion stores, theatres, restaurants, coffee shops, and famous hotels.
It was the most visited street by the region’s top intellectuals, artists, poets, writers, and singers.
Beirut was the cinema capital of the Arab world. Lebanese cinemas were famous for their diverse selection of films from Egypt, Hollywood, and Europe, and the high quality of their film screenings.
There were 14 cinemas on Hamra street alone, including the infamous Eldorado, the Picadilly, and the Versailles.
Before the civil war, Downtown Beirut was a city-of-contrasts. You could see the clean and unclean, the ugly and the beautiful, and the smelly and the perfumed.
It was the home of a variety of activities, ranging from official state and municipal bureaucracies, travel terminals, hotels, and sidewalks cafes to retail stores, popular souks, to less reputable venues such as brothels, bars, and gambling houses.
The country’s economy was expanding and air travel to the capital was important, that’s when Middle East Airlines (MEA) was founded. MEA was the Middle Eastern airline and its maintenance center was used by foreign airlines.
Last but not least, Beirut’s Tramway was one of the capital’s necessities. As we now stay hours in the traffic each day, it’s important to remember how Lebanon’s tramway was very influential on the perception of time, punctuality, and orderliness.
That was the time called Beirut Golden Era. And yet, while it was better in various aspects, Beirut has evolved significantly in many more, not only has it survived the destructive war but it has also progressed and become even lovelier today.
Yes, we have issues that need solving, and some are undergoing active solutions, but the golden era was not without issues neither. We just have to see how we have evolved and improved since then, while we continue our collective journey in making our country better and better. God bless Lebanon.