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Du 26/11/2022 à 11:00 jusqu'au 26/05/2023 à 11:00

This exhibition combines photographs and text, giving visitors the opportunity to experience the visual era of Beirut’s history that had almost been lost. It traces the development of a small village which turned into an important modern city, rising from the ashes of many disasters. The exhibition “Beirut 1840-1918, Photographs & Maps” is a complement or testimonial to rare photographs that revive what had been forgotten about Beirut, for example, traditional houses, walls, alleys, streets and towers within the old walls (sour). Views that had not been captured by the lenses of professional photographers, were taken instead by amateur photographers who benefited from the advance in photographic techniques, particularly the ease of taking and developing photos, facilities that did not exist in the early years of photography. These amateur photographers unwittingly filled the gap in the visual history of Beirut’s transformation, most notably among them Max von Oppenheim. In this exhibition, there are photographs displayed for the first time, some of which were acquired by the Nabu Museum last year in an effort to preserve the visual history of Beirut, that was transformed as the most important cultural and commercial city in the eastern Mediterranean.


The exhibition begins with two unique watercolours by Benjamin Mary, showing the Burj alShalfoun which was demolished and replaced by the Convent of the Lazarist Sisters, and later by the well-known al-Azariya building in 1955. It also features panoramic photos of farming areas, neighbourhoods, alleys, humble dwellings, khans, schools, hospitals, palaces, consular posts and the homes of dignitaries showing both internal and external architecture, in addition to the Grand Serail and the facilities of the Quarantine compound whose name is borne by a neighbourhood in present-day Beirut, Quarantine or Karantina; also represented are coastal scenes, boats anchored some distance away from the coastline, the staggered enlargement of the Port and harbour traffic. Such photos are more than reflections of light and darkness; they depict images of dockworkers and receptions welcoming foreign dignitaries visiting Beirut, particularly the German Emperor William II and his Empress. They also show us both the political and tragic events experienced by Beirut, namely the bombing by the Italians in 1912 and by the British in 1917, and the occasional presence of its waters and coastal areas by foreign fleets. Beirut, which was the point of departure for pilgrims traveling to the Holy Land in Palestine and al-Hijaz, turned in a relatively short time into a cosmopolitan city, expanding beyond its walls. A city to which the water from the Nahr al-Kalb (Dog River) was piped, from which the railway ran and in which prestigious universities were built to attract students from all over the Arab world. A city that was renowned for its education and whose social structure was made up of the Beiruti families depicted in the exhibition in individual and group photos while wearing the traditional clothes that reflect their customs and the costumes of different religious schools. “A picture is worth a thousand words” as the Japanese proverb says. Thus, it is the pictures of Beirut in the Nabu’s exhibition that tell us about the city we had never known or even heard about, or of its specific transformations: the old Beirut that was ruined and replaced by a new city with no architectural identity, and built of reinforced concrete. 


This exhibition has been organized on the occasion of the publication of a two-volume book by Badr El-Hage and Samir Moubarak, Beirut 1840-1914: A Visual & Descriptive Portrait. The book outlines the history of Beirut drawing on extensive research detailing how the city was transformed. The first part of Volume I consists of six chapters about the history of photography with reference to the city between 1840 and 1918, while the second part consists of eleven chapters that discuss the history of various landmarks and aspects of Beirut such as the port, the coast, architecture including religious and residential buildings, streets, professions and events such as the famine and the bombardments by foreign powers. The text is accompanied by old photographs, thus bringing to life the history of the city. Volume II is dedicated solely to photographs, divided into categories such as the port, coast, interior design, architecture, famine, professions, streets and so on. Apart from the exhibition guide, there will be a surprise for bibliophiles, namely the publication of Khalil Gibran’s novel Selma or Broken Wings, translated by the French Orientalist, Charles Pellat which was found among his papers, in addition to the French version of the story entitled The Bridal Bed, The drawings are by the Iraqi artist, Mahmoud al-Obeidi


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