During Ottoman era, many historical texts describe Ashrafieh as one of the "suburbs" of the city of Beirut. Some texts refer it as "the farm of Ashrafieh”. But nowadays olive, strawberry and other fruit trees that existed in Ashrafieh have totally disappeared. But the agricultural character which accompanied the district, remains however cited in the names of some streets and neighborhoods, "Karm el Zeitoun" for example (or the Garden of olives) where today there are no more olive trees.
The contemporary history of Beirut begins in the mid-nineteenth century, with the Nahda, the Cultural Revolution that swept the city coming from Cairo, following the influx of refugees fleeing the 1860 fightings in the mountains between Druze and Maronites.
The development of the city owes a lot to its port, the first in the region to have been given quarantine in the nineteenth century and the choice for Beirut by the Western powers in order to establish their religious missions, their universities and commercial establishments. At that time, the city were enjoying a very high population growth, going from 20 000 in 1840 to 60 000 in 1860 to reach 120 000 inhabitants in 1895.
Dominating the modern port of Beirut and bordered by a river that has the name of the city, the Nahr Beirut - ancient Romans Magor - Ashrafieh hill, east, culminates at 100 meters. The extension of the former suburb of Saïfi gave birth to Gemayzeh district by establishing an urban continuity on the waterfront towards Nahr. Saïfi had been a special area for carpentry.
The progressive urbanization of Ashrafieh
Since 1850, the garden suburb style, where buildings were separated from each other by middle sized private gardens, was emerging in Ashrafieh (as within the two other major centers of population that have become Ras Beirut and Mousseitbeh).
This type of home located in a private garden open to the outside, has appeared in the bourgeoisie era after the first development that Beirut had witnessed in the 1840s; what soon gave birth to real palaces on the hill of Ashrafieh. The bourgeois were in that time, keen on beautifying the outer surfaces inspired by Baroque, Moorish and neo-Gothic achievements. The interiors are furnished with marble columns, with wall decorations and painted ceilings. As for furnishings, they are reproduced from the European aristocracy. This pattern of urbanization has become more common with the development of industrial techniques.
Ashrafieh quickly benefited from the status of some of its commercial bourgeoisie streets, such as Sursock, while the construction of the Damascus road marked a major turning point in the commercial history of Beirut.
Between 1945 and 1955, urbanization arrived in Beirut (390 permits issued in 1945, 1261 in 1955). The capital turned from a constructed area of 100 000 square meters to over 600 000 meters. On the hills of Achrafieh, residential neighborhoods were becoming increasingly dense and gradually occupied all free spaces.
In the 60s, avenues were built to link various public neighborhoods to each other. It was at that time when the famous Ring was finalized: Achrafieh is located no longer than 3 minutes away from Hamra. It’s also during this period that the Independence Avenue has connected the top of the Achrafieh hill to the one of Mousseitbeh. This was the beginning of a massive urbanization which sustained until today.
Photos from the website Lebscape.com