Martyrs‘ square

It is the central square of بيروت, Lebanon, and has played an important role in Lebanese history different times: the Martyrs’ square. It was formerly an open square next to the city walls and it is therefore close to the old city centre. It leads down to the harbour and the two most iconic buildings next to it are the Mohammad Al-Amin mosque and the ‘egg‘ – a cinema with a special architecture that remained unfinished due to the Lebanese civil war. Martyrs’ square is a place often chosen for public events, protests and protest camps.

The square was formerly named ‘Al-Burj‘ and later ‘Place des Cannons‘ (because cannons were placed here). In 1916 Lebanon and Syria (together called ‘Greater Syria‘) were part of the Ottoman Empire and in both countries, Arab nationalism was on the rise – demanding greater autonomy from the Ottomans. On May 6th, 1916, twentyone nationalists were executed simultaneously in Beirut and Damascus. Later this day became a public holiday (Martyrs’ day) and the two public squares were both renamed to ‘Martyrs’ square‘. On the square at Beirut, you can find a statue commemorating the people killed on that day – it was created by a French sculptor and placed there in the 1960s. The statue remained at its place during the civil war and still, today shows a lot of bullet holes. It was officially decided to keep it in this condition as a memorial.

During the Lebanese civil war (1975-1990), the Martyrs’ square was part of the green line – the demarcation line or demilitarized zone between the East (Christians) and the West (Muslims) of the city. It wasn’t used for a very long time and therefore trees and other plants were growing there and creating a green line through the city between destroyed houses. When I came to Beirut in 2019 the square was used for a protest camp. Every evening people were gathering there to demand political and economic change. Tents were set up, the people were singing and dancing, creating artworks. But there was also a lot of broken glass, massive military presence and a lot of barbed wire. If something important happens in Beirut most often it happens on Martyrs’ square.

Martyrs’ square
بيروت / Beirut

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