Located forty-five kilometers from Beirut, Saida, Sidon (Sidona, or Seyde) of antiquity, has been the cradle of different civilizations ranging from the Chalcolithic to the present day. Today, Saida is the capital of South Lebanon. Although it has lost the prestigious aura conferred on it by the activities that made it one of the greatest Ports of the Levant, and despite the subsequent development revealed by the various archeological discoveries of the past century, it shelters in the heart of the old city, one of the most remarkable urban ensembles of the Mediterranean basin. The old town of Saida faces the sea; however, because it is built on a slight promontory, it seems to be escaping from the hold of the open sea. Very inward-looking, it harbors an undreamt-of wealth in its alleys, and despite its age, this alleyway town is a live witness of a past marked with intensive port and commercial activities. Thus, it will offer the visitor’s curiosity unexpected discoveries. Many decades ago, a social class abandoned the town, eager for more comfort, or wrongly considering this habitat to be outdated. Soon after, the old town of Saida took on an appearance of renunciation peculiar to old stones subjected to the corrosion of time and the sea air. The Israeli invasion in 1982 worsened this process: having destroyed some parts of the seaside and shaken many houses in the very heart of the old town. The invasion aborted every attempt at rehabilitation and hastened the departure of those still undecided.
Through the well-known phenomenon of transmigration, a destitute population replaced the original social group. Thinking that this move was temporary, they contributed, through lack of maintenance, to increasing the abandoned character of the site. Today, the HARIRI FOUNDATION, an association comprising numerous engineers, architects, urbanists, restorers, and artists have decided to rehabilitate the town. It is with this perspective in mind that one should approach the town, starting at “Khan el Franj” because of its strategic situation at the start of the market place. Facing the Khan is the fishing port whose access is commanded by the Sea Fortress which stretches along a wide quay, sheltered from the prevailing wind of the south-west. Seen from above, the old town of Saida stands against the St Louis Castle. It seems to be caught in a stranglehold between the sea and the modern city. Because of its monolithic aspect, one may fear the lack of urban planning; but as soon as we refer to the plan drawn up in the XIX century, and to the one drawn up recently, we realize that it is not the case.
The old town is crisscrossed by north-south and east-west rectilinear streets which create independent and personalized residential blocks. The various television antennas appear to be the only signs of modernism. They emerge from the roofs and seem to fascinate the pigeons whose circular flights are guided by invisible trainers hidden by the tops of the crowning terraces.
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