Thursday, April 21, 2011

Easter Bunnies at Beirut Souks

The Easter garden at Beirut Souks
It’s Easter in Beirut’s major commercial district. The bunnies are out and about in their singing garden, busy sowing, coloring eggs, picking flowers and preparing for the big day on Sunday.

The Beirut Souks are dear to my heart. They were a daily destination whenever I visited Beirut with the family while growing up and later when I returned to live here in 1973. My two uncles, Adeeb and Majeed, had shops there, the first in Souk Ayyas and the second in Souk al-Jameel. We would invariably pass by to see them, stopping first to get a fresh drink from the Bourkeh or Pool – a circular traditional outdoor place that at the time served every imaginable fresh juice.

Bunnies busy setting the table
The singing tree
I headed there on my first evening in Beirut on Monday (April 18) and was immediately drawn by the music at the end of the Souks complex, called Ajami Square. And that’s where I discovered the Easter garden and couldn’t resist taking pictures to share (see here).

There were lots of families taking pictures of the children and enjoying the different scenes the rabbits were performing and of the large singing tree. I thought it was an excellent idea and certainly enjoyable for the strollers and visitors.

Beirut Souks, in the major downtown commercial district, have more than 200 shops and have always been the heart of Beirut’s business area. They were also destroyed beyond repair during the 1975-1990 civil war and were rebuilt by Solidere according to the original grid plan and location while maintaining the landmarks and street names. Many people have a love-hate relationship with the renovated downtown district. But it is always an attraction.

Beirut Souks (photo via
Solidere, which in French stands for “Société libanaise pour le développement et la reconstruction de Beyrouth” (or “The Lebanese Company for the Development and Reconstruction of Beirut”), was founded in 1994 by the late prime minister Rafik Hariri. Its vision is of “Beirut city center as a complete, synergetic district” enhancing the economic vitality and social vibrancy of the central district through a “signature shopping, hospitality, entertainment and cultural meeting place.” 

Apart from Souk Ayyas and Souk al-Jameel, there was Souk al-Tawileh and Souk al-Franj, Lebanon’s biggest fruit, vegetable and flower market, where I still remember shopping with my grandfather.

Designed in five separate commissions by international and Lebanese architects, Beirut Souks offer 128,000 square meters of built-up area interspersed with landscaped pedestrian zones. They are divided into two main parts.

The South Souks was designed by architects Rafael Moneo (Spain) and Samir Khairallah & Partners; the Gold Souks by Kevin Dash (UK) and Samir Khairallah & Partners; and the North Souks by Valode et Pistre (France) / Annabel Kassar and Zaha Hadid.

During the restoration, many archeological findings were made and integrated in the landscape, including the ancient Phoenician commercial quarter, the medieval moat, the Mameluk Koranic madrassa of Ibn Iraq al Dimashqi; and the restored mosaics from Byzantine shops in Souk al-Franj.

Preparing the egg hunt for Easter morning
Part of the wall painting
In the meantime, the rabbits are preparing for Easter…