Beirut sky­line cap­tures re­li­gious ri­valry and har­mony

Cathe­dral gets bell tower same height as nearby minarets

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -


In Beirut’s rapidly evolv­ing sky­line, a newly built cathe­dral bell tower has risen next to the soar­ing minarets of a land­mark mosque, sym­bol­iz­ing both re­li­gious co­ex­is­tence and com­pe­ti­tion in a city split by sec­tar­ian war from 1975 to 1990. The new bell tower of the 19th cen­tury Saint Ge­orge Cathe­dral is Beirut’s tallest at 72 me­ters - the same height as the four minarets of the Mo­ham­mad AlAmin mosque that has dom­i­nated the city sky­line since it was built over a decade ago.

Topped with an enor­mous cross that lights up at night, the bell tower was in­au­gu­rated at the week­end after a decade of con­struc­tion. Both the church and mosque are prom­i­nent fea­tures of the Beirut city cen­tre that is still be­ing re­built from the civil war, and are lo­cated near the front­line that divided Chris­tian east Beirut from Mus­lim west Beirut dur­ing the con­flict.

Arch­bishop Paul Matar said the idea of build­ing a bell tower at Saint Ge­orge Cathe­dral was a dream since its con­struc­tion in 1894. It was orig­i­nally sup­posed to be 75 me­ters high, the same size as the tower at Rome’s Basil­ica di Santa Maria Mag­giore that in­spired the cathe­dral’s de­sign. But in­stead, Matar said he shaved three me­ters off the de­sign in what he de­scribed as a mes­sage of co­ex­is­tence. “When the mosque was built we were happy there would be a mosque and a church near each other. This is the slo­gan of Le­banon,” he said in an in­ter­view at his of­fices in Beirut. “So there­fore I wanted the tower’s height to be at the same height as the mosque, so there is sol­i­dar­ity and har­mony,” he said.

The cathe­dral be­longs to Le­banon’s Ma­ronite Chris­tian church, the big­gest Chris­tian com­mu­nity in the coun­try. After the guns fell silent, years were spent re­build­ing the cathe­dral and dozens of other dam­aged or de­stroyed churches in Beirut, hold­ing up the start of work on the tower, Matar said. In terms of their size, Al-Amin mosque and tower have bro­ken new ground for re­li­gious build­ings in Beirut. Crit­ics say both are out of scale with the city’s other places of wor­ship. Some Chris­tians saw the Amin mosque as an af­front to their com­mu­nity. Its size, com­pared to nearby Chris­tian places of wor­ship, was jar­ring for some Ma­ronites, who emerged as the po­lit­i­cal losers of the civil war.

The mosque’s im­pe­rial Ot­toman style, not found any­where else in Le­banon, was in line with the wishes of its fi­nancier, the late states­man Rafiq Al-Hariri, who was as­sas­si­nated in 2005. It was built on the site of a small prayer cor­ner with the same name. Hariri, who is buried next to the mosque, had per­son­ally over­seen el­e­ments of the con­struc­tion, in­clud­ing pick­ing the shade of blue for the dome. A decade ago, the mosque sit­u­ated on a cor­ner of Beirut’s Mar­tyrs’ Square fea­tured reg­u­larly in the news dur­ing a wave of protests trig­gered by Hariri’s killing. But the bell tower’s in­tended mes­sage of in­ter­faith sol­i­dar­ity and unity has not reached ev­ery­one. Ge­orge Ar­bid, di­rec­tor of the Beirut-based Arab Cen­ter for Ar­chi­tec­ture, said that it pointed to lin­ger­ing sec­tar­ian ri­valry in the city. “It is clear that it is a type of com­pe­ti­tion - be it pos­i­tive or neg­a­tive - with the minarets of the Amin mosque that is next to it,” he said. “It is a con­tin­u­a­tion of a type of com­pe­ti­tion that emerged be­fore this time, a com­pe­ti­tion be­tween the sects for their pres­ence in the city.”—Reuters

ALEPPO: A gen­eral view taken from the govern­ment side in Syria’s Aleppo prov­ince shows a de­serted road lead­ing to eastern Aleppo’s rebel-held Baeedin dis­trict with the Haidariya and Ain Tal neigh­bor­hoods, also un­der rebel con­trol, seen in the back­ground. — AFP

BEIRUT: Le­banese Army sol­diers ride horses as they carry Le­banese flags dur­ing a mil­i­tary pa­rade to mark the 73rd an­niver­sary of Le­banon’s in­de­pen­dence from France in down­town Beirut, Le­banon, Tues­day Nov 22, 2016. Le­banon gained in­de­pen­dence from France in 1943. — AP

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