Urban forms at intersection of Imperialism and Colonialism
A perspective on Beirut
Towards the end of the 19th century and the WWI geopolitical aftermath, Beirut presents a case along the Eastern Mediterranean at the intersection of two major colonial powers, the Ottoman Imperialism and French Colonialism. Dissociated from the province of Damascus in 1888, Beirut was elevated to the rank of provincial capital of Wilâya, the geographical borders of which spanned the equivalent of four actual countries. Following this administrative upgrade Beirut benefited from the Tanzimat reforms and the Sultan Abdul Hamid II jubilee in 1901. This paper will highlight the implementations of these political moments on urban forms and the urban landmarks for the ruler’s glory. Under the French mandate, Beirut role shifted from being provincial capital of a Wilâya part of the Ottoman Empire, to being capital of a Republic country with newly defined borders. Preceding the French Colonialism, Sultan Abdul Hamid II envisioned Westernizing some of the Ottoman Empire cities to the image of the European urban model. Alternately, the French were very enthusiastic to modernize Beirut, their prime image in the Levant. At this moment, Beirut’s urban fate was at the intersection of two visions of Westernization, the late Ottoman Imperialism and the early French Colonialism. An attempt to better understand the urban implications of this turn of century intersection, will be achieved by highlighting urban forms continuities and ruptures as a methodology observed in the broader geopolitical context. It is a chance to reflect on the modes of borrowing Western urban forms and examining the blurred boundaries of their planning, juxtaposition or imposition on an existing urban order. It will as well unfold in a parallel mode how each colonial power approached and applied different urban practices on their occupied territories.