Stairways to sustainability: Discovering city’s secrets

BEIRUT: Over a hundred people gathered on a sunny Saturday for a walking tour of Ashrafieh, led by a community organization seeking to preserve Beirut’s heritage and promote sustainable transportation.

“Beirut is a very busy city. People need to start walking again instead of using cars,” Georges Tachdjian, founder of Achrafieh Stairs, told The Daily Star.

An eclectic crowd met at Mar Mikhael’s Vendome Stairs on Feb. 2 for Achrafieh Stairs’ first walking tour of the area.

Tachdjian said his organization, which is part of the community NGO Logos Association, puts together festivals, hikes and garage sales to raise awareness of Beirut’s heritage and prevent the destruction of historical buildings and stairs.

The day’s walk started from the Vendome Stairs on Armenia Street, going through Geitawi, Rmeil, Medawar and Sursock before circling back to the stairway. Along the route, participants explored historic buildings and paths, including an abandoned road in Geitawi that in the 19th century was home to a major Beirut souk. They also saw the now-defunct train station in Mar Mikhael, which Tachdjian said connected parts of Ashrafieh in just three minutes, where today with traffic it would take 30.

“Participants will have the chance to discover hidden corners, old-time shortcuts and Beirut’s old heritage,” Tachdjian said. He added that the initiative also aimed to encourage walking and biking over driving - discovering historical areas and hidden alleys is an added bonus.

Tachdjian said Achrafieh Stairs’ next walk was slated for March. 9.

It will start from the St. Nicholas stairs and allow participants to explore the nearby Saifi and Gemmayzeh areas.

Tachdjian said stairs and old buildings in Beirut were under threat from nearby construction projects, and so Achrafieh Stairs sought to highlight the city’s heritage and history through its events.

The organization had previously planned a hike and a bike tour to encourage people to see the beauty of Beirut.

Tachdjian added that Achrafieh Stairs had also worked with the Culture Ministry, the Beirut Municipality and other activists and NGOs to save some of Beirut’s historical staircases, including the Vendome stairs.

They were later painted by Dihzahyners (pronounced “designers”), a group of artists who aim to beautify Beirut through painting initiatives around the city.

Last Saturday’s walk was put together in collaboration with other organizations, including like-minded NGOs such as Rou7 Beirut, which aims to help preserve Beirut’s heritage, Yasa, which promotes road safety, and Train/Train, which hopes to relaunch trains in Lebanon.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 09, 2019, on page 2.




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