Bombed Beirut – A Personal Tour

bombed church beirut

Bombed Church in Beirut...still stands leaving a constant memory of the war

Today was my day to go walking through time; a walk through downtown Beirut photographing the bombed buildings which still exist in the Beirut skyline.  I was in shock of the hundreds of bullet holes scarring the buildings and that’s when I saw him; a security guard of some type motioning at me. I immediately thought – crap I’m busted – I’m not supposed to be wandering around the outsides of these abandoned buildings taking pictures. I started putting away my camera and started my ‘I’m just a tourist’ act and I realized he was coming closer and still motioning towards me. However the more I looked at him, I realized that he wasn’t telling me to go away, he was telling me to ‘come here’.

I started walking towards him and quickly realized communication was going to be difficult as he started talking to me in French. He kept motioning for me to follow him in a harmless way and I decided to keep following. Soon, he was leading me closer towards the bombed out church where there were tarps covering much of the lower levels. He went over to the tarp, and pulled it up motioning for me to look inside; he was giving me the ‘forbidden’ view; and it was worth it. It felt like a whole different world underneath that tarp – trees grew inside the skeleton of the building and holes were in the ceiling. He continued to give me a personal tour providing access to areas I would’ve never seen on my own.

bullet holes beirut

Bullet holes scar the bombed church

bombed building beirut

Going inside - a view not many people get to see

inside bombed building beirut

Mother nature has taken over inside this bombed church

Then he motioned to the big remnants of the cinema across the street. This building is affectionately referred to as ‘the egg’ and has had a scarred history. It wasn’t actually destroyed from the war, but instead it’s been in war of politics and historical relevance. Sure, it’s been scarred by the war like all of the buildings in downtown, but the question of its final demolition hangs in the hands of the people – and no one can agree on it.

I looked at him in surprise and said “ok” , starting to wonder if I should be following this stranger into abandoned buildings. But instincts said it was ok – plus, of course I didn’t want to pass up the chance to walk inside this crumbling building; the eyesore of rebuilt downtown. It seemed to be the reminder of the past that exists in small doses in Beirut. Everything was new around it, and then there was this scar – ‘the egg’.

I followed him past the fences and into the building. He started walking towards the stairs. For a moment I questioned how stable they were, but continue to follow him. We went up two flights and emerged from the stairs into a huge open theatre area; all that was left was concrete and rebar. I noticed the exposed nails on the floor making myself aware of the fact that I wasn’t really dressed properly for such an excursion in my cute little ballet flats. I watched my step and he took me up the theatre seating to the big opening where the building ended. He wouldn’t allow me to go to the edge and instead let me shoot in peace.

the egg beirut

The 'scrambled' egg of Beirut

Beirut crumbling

The view of the new from inside the old wartorn egg

A few minutes later he asked me, “Where are you from? Germany, Switzerland?” in feeble English. I hesitated and my brain went into overdrive; shit – do I tell him I’m from America. We aren’t exactly liked by Lebanon thanks to our association with Israel. But before I could think to much I said, “I’m from America.” In the most apologetic voice that I’ve heard come out of me. There was a slight silence and then he smiled noting my hesitant answer. He said – “It’s ok! We like America. “ A slight pause and he continued, “Israel, no like” as he shook his head in disgust.

For my personal tour he required a hug as I said “Yella, Thankyou.” and I walked away.

In addition to these two buildings, here’s a few of my favorite photos of Bombed Beirut – and beyond:

Martyr Square Beirut

Martyre Square statue still stands, riddled with bullet holes

bombed beirut

Bombed buildings take on an eery feel at night

Beirut at night

Crumbling yet alive

holiday inn beirut

The Bombed Holiday Inn stands as a reminder

Your Comments

19 Comments so far

  1. Sherry, your photos and the story behind them are incredible. I’m so moved by your images and narrative. You really elevate travel photography to first-rate photojournalism! Looking forward to meeting you in May :-)

  2. It reminds me of Liverpool, England when I was a small child. Craters where houses used to be, and piles of rubble. Of course, that was a more remote kind of destruction, caused by ariel bombing, no bullet holes. The bullets seem worse though, more personal. Civil wars are always the most cruel.

  3. Priyank says:

    Hi Sherry, The pictures of those building are pretty grim…, but seeing those statues ridden with holes – that was very traumatic. :-( It’s nice that you got an unexpected tour of the place – was that area “guarded” or was he just hanging around?

    • Sherry says:

      He was kind of guarding the area – but I’m honestly not sure if he really worked around the area or not! I decided not to ask too many questions! Glad you liked the photos!

      • Emile youseff Elbaghd says:

        Hi Sherry love you pics my name is Emile and i live in Beirut and i just wanted to share some info. The area you where taking photos in is called Solidere its the most heavly guarded in Beirut and taking photos is not normally allowed. The old church is the Saint Vincent de Paul and the Egg is the old City Centre Cinema complex

  4. Really incredible photos – and story! So glad that your instincts told you to “follow”… :)

  5. Abigail says:

    These pictures are just amazing, and it is incredible that it is all still standing! Glad you got a peak at more.

  6. Your photos do tell a story and a very powerful one at that! It is hard to believe there is so much destruction still standing.

  7. Stunning, stunning, stunning! Especially the photo captioned: “The view of the new from inside the old wartorn egg.” So raw it hardly needs words.

    • Sherry says:

      I was actually kind of nervous about being up there – but the guy led me up there and I was pretty excited when I was able to get a rare photograph that not everyone gets to take!

  8. Mark H says:

    Photos that so effectively tell a story. While cities mend to a certian level, I suspect that the people take about as long as the buildings to truly recover from wars and the heartbreak and hurt that they invariably bring.

  9. Incredible man, its amazing and pics but sadly about the place is still in the same condition which is not before. I really like photographs. Thanks for brilliant pics.

  10. Theodora says:

    There’s a macabre beauty to bombed buildings — particularly those which have been left as shells as a reminder of the horrors of war. Thanks for this picture essay. Lovely to look at.

  11. Anil says:

    Lebanon seems like a place that can’t quite get on its feet completely. These pictures reflect that contrast; a wonderful story to follow along with Sherry :)

    • Sherry says:

      Yes – I wonder if it will ever get on it’s feet. Everyone there is so used to the uncertainty…they don’t really notice any more.

  12. Kal says:

    Dear Sherry,
    I’m doing a thesis on the Egg building and nowadays no one is allowed to enter the building as it will soon be demolished. Would you mind sending me your photos of the Egg? Your help is much treasured. Thank you. :)

    • Sherry says:

      HI Kal – I would have to understand how you intend to use them more. Can you please provide more details of who your audience is and how you would intent on using them and where? I would need to give them to you watermarked if I would decide to allow you to use them.

  13. zakary karam says:

    Hey sherry. im an architecture student and im renovating the church for my final year project. do you mind sending me more photos of the interior so that I would be able to document the church on a proper basis

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