The Commercial and strategic role of the city in the 19th century attracts investment, particularly in Ashrafieh: places of worship, hospitals, and educational institutions were then the main monuments of the hill. The different districts that emerged had the names of their patrons. Thus in 1875 the father Monot dedicated 'his' College to St. Joseph and opened the doors to all students in the city. The University was brought to life in 1881, followed by the French Faculty of Medicine in 1888.
Other tributes are paid daily to Ashrafieh’s major builders, for example, the Nasra district, have the designation of the school founder, established by the Ladies of Nazareth.
In Jeitawi, the setting was still enough pastoral to host the house of the Jesuits – that later on, gave its name to the future public park “Jesuit garden”.
Until now, there is no official census on the number and on the exact location of ancient houses in Beirut, broadly speaking in Lebanon. However, it is widely believed that traditional dwellings represent 2.5% of real estate. The APSAD (Association for the Preservation and Protection of Ancient Dwellings), founded by Lady Cochrane is the author of a study conducted in 1996 (at the request of the Minister of Culture of that time) that reported the existence of 1019 traditional buildings constructed between 1850 and 1940, all located in peri-central areas, including Ashrafieh, Sodeco and Gemmayze.
There is no public organization in Lebanon in charge of managing the architectural heritage. In Lebanon, old buildings are governed by the law of 1933 on antiquities which only cover buildings constructed before 1700; the issue of traditional houses of the 19th and early 20th century remains in legal vacuum. In Al-Majal (Academic Center for Construction and Reconstruction, established within the Town Planning Institute of ALBA), it is believed that a solution may emerge through event organization for both tourists and Lebanese citizens. The idea is to allow owners of old houses to consider a new source of income other than the one coming from property speculation.
In this same context, some dwellings are preserved while being transformed into hotels or restaurants, such as the Albergo Hotel (and its restaurant, Al Dente), located near Sodeco.
A few architectural treasures:
The Barakat House, to be renovated soon in order to be transformed into a "museum of memory" is one of the major traditional buildings of the capital. Located in Sodeco, it is the angle between Elias Sarkis Avenue and Damascus Street. It is also called the Yellow House, for the color of its stones. This majestic building bears multiple impacts of projectiles dating from the Civil War: it’s located on what was once the dividing line between East Beirut and West Beirut. Its foundation stone was laid in 1924. Its architecture is an avant-garde masterpiece.
In the Gemmayze neighborhood, the Sursock Museum was once the residence of the Sursock family. It is now a museum of modern art. Built in 1912, this luxurious two-storey palace is one of the most beautiful homes in Beirut, with a white marble staircase that proudly stands in the middle.The building is still surrounded by greenery, but its beautiful garden has recently been partially destroyed to allow the construction of a nearby tower. The museum hosts today one of the most prestigious collection of Lebanese Contemporary Art, and organizes as well every year the famous” “Salon d’Automne”.
The “Bustros Palace” hosts nowadays the Lebanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Emigrants. This house is the former residence of the Bustros family (Beiruti prominent aristocratic family). The building is one of the architectural treasures of the capital.
It is to be noted that the architectural wonders of Beirut are virtually absent from certain neighborhoods. Again, civil society tries to act by giving these areas, poorly maintained, a more dashing aspect. The Association Help Lebanon has repainted a few years ago, the facades of many houses in the neighborhood of Karm el Zeitoun in pastel colors. Pink, blue and light green, form a more lively landscape rather than a concatenation of concrete walls.
In a country like Lebanon where you can find about 18 religions, Achrafieh is a predominantly Christian neighbourhood. A mosque is however located in the neighbourhood of Sodeco. It is located next to many churches dedicated to various Christian rites: Catholic, Greek Melkite, Greek Orthodox, Maronite ...
Each church has its own history and is part of the landscape and life of the neighbourhood. In Gemayzeh, the Santa Church falls in the middle of pubs and restaurants. A few dozen meters away, the St. Antoine church also welcomes its fervents on Sundays and weekdays.
Every year, few days before Easter, during the Holy Thursday, Christians traditionally visit seven churches in a row, stopping a few moments in each one to pray. Joanne, 24 years old writer living in Gemayzeh says, "I love this tradition of the seven churches. There is not much to be done to find seven churches ... in my neighbourhood between Gemayzeh and Monot and there are at least eight churches! "