Discover the Rich History of Beirut’s Achrafieh, Badaro, & Hamra Neighborhoods
Many people know that cities like New York, Paris, and London have colorful histories and distinct neighborhoods; just a mention of Greenwich Village, Notting Hill, or Montmartre evokes images and feelings of architecture, mood, history, and culture.
Beirut predates all of those cities by thousands of years, and the complex history of the city has given rise to some fascinating and lively neighborhoods which should be on the must-see list of anyone who visits this fascinating and lively city by the sea.
Located east of downtown Beirut, Achrafieh (sometimes spelled Ashrafieh) is one of the oldest and most charming neighborhoods in the entire city. A mixture of commercial and residential, it’s fun to just wander the narrow, winding, tree-lined streets and admire the lovely French and Ottoman houses, quaint cafes, restaurants, and shops, which are juxtaposed with large office buildings and luxurious apartment high-rises.
Most of this area was farmland until the 1930s, when the Lebanese government ordered that the land be partitioned, and roads and highways be built. Sadly, much of the neighborhood’s architectural history was destroyed during the civil war, but vestiges remain and, together with more modern structures, provide an interesting mosaic for shopping, dining, and living.
A must-see in Achrafieh is the Sursock Museum, a 1911 villa-turned-art-museum. The museum houses modern and contemporary art by Lebanese artists, as well as a collection of Japanese woodcut prints and thousands of photos from the Middle East ranging from the 1830s to the 1960s.
Just south of Achrafieh is the Badaro neighborhood, fast becoming one of the city’s premier nightlife areas. Many consider it the East Village of Beirut, as it is filled with local groceries, bakeries, restaurants, and sidewalk cafés, and locals are proud of and fiercely loyal to the local businesses. Bars and chain restaurants have also appeared in recent years, making it an attractive after-hours destination for the younger crowd, but older Beirutis know that Badaro has long been a place for the hip and cool to hang out.
The area features a 75-acre public pine forest and the Beirut Hippodrome, but the most famous attraction is most certainly the National Museum of Beirut. This is Lebanon’s most important and prestigious museum of archeology, and houses seven distinct collections spanning from prehistoric periods to the 16th century.
Before the civil war started in 1975, Hamra was the trendiest and hippest place in the city. The center of it was Hamra Street, known as the Champs Elysées of Beirut. Although it has not returned to its pre-war reputation, Hamra Street and its surrounding areas have bounced back nicely since the end of the war. It is now a major commercial district, and the streets are peppered with cafés, restaurants, bars, pubs, shops, boutiques, and some familiar chain stores and restaurants from the west. 78 Street, known as the Alleyway, is one of the most popular clubbing and dancing spots in Beirut.
This is also Beirut’s hub for free-thinkers and is less affiliated with a specific religion than any other area of the city. The liberal views – both religious and political – of its residents embrace all beliefs. People of many different faiths intermingle in the streets and cafés of this lively district.