It’s not unusual for buildings to be demolished to make way for something else. And more often than not, it’s something that fulfils a public need. It could be a road, a school, a hospital or housing, and the building or structure that is torn down to make way for the new development tends to be something that has been left empty for years and has fallen into a state of disrepair.
However, imagine if a much loved local landmark was earmarked for demolition. There would be an understandable outcry. With this in mind, imagine the furore if it wasn’t even made clear what was going to replace the landmark once it was gone? Well that is the current situation in the Lebanese capital Beirut, where a popular staircase that has become the city’s cultural heart is facing demolition with no-one knowing what is going to stand in place.
Residents in the Mar Mikhael part of the city are protesting at the possible demolition, citing its popularity as a performing arts venue, as well as its functional capacity as a passage for residents living in a hilly area. The stairs also bring a great deal of colour to the city, having been painted by local artists over a period of two years, giving a wonderful carpet effect.
The staircase, known as the Massad Steps, is part of a network of stairs that interconnect throughout the undulating neighbourhood of Ashrafieh. In recent years, it has become a popular location for art and street performances, part of a growing culture that has flourished in Lebanon since the country’s bitter civil war ended in 1990.
There is also a great deal of history behind the staircase. One resident told local reporters he believes it has been there for at least 150 years and it’s believed it may have been built on an ancient Roman graveyard, one of many in Ashrafieh.
Residents took part in a recent sit-in protest and used social media to call on others to join them in their fight to save the stairs. One local shopkeeper said: “they’re killing our heritage and destroying it. They’re leaving nothing for us as nostalgia, and for people from abroad to see the beauty of Lebanon.”
Although change is inevitable in many places it seems many developers are too quick to simply tear down what’s there and replace it with something new, without examining the history and culture of a place and what it means to people, especially when that particular location is just starting get its own new lease of life – one that’s happened organically simply because it’s a place to which people like to go.