On the outskirts of the old city, a visitor at first glance stands perplexed faced with this maze of alleys, alleyways and narrow winding passages that sometimes lead to a dead-end that oblige one to retrace one’s steps for fear of getting lost. However, under this apparently incoherent topography, a certain order prevails in the major pedestrian streets oriented north-south and east-west. The old town of Saida is divided into two distinct zones: shopping and residential. The first one is peripheral and faces the road open to traffic that separates it from the new city. It is lined with various shops: food, clothing, and second-hand market goods. The souks, so characteristic of Arab cities, are located behind this noisy road: souks of fabrics, clothes, shoes, mattress makers, sewing machine repairmen, glaziers, and some cafés where people can smoke a nargileh and negotiate their business.
The second zone, more family-oriented, is exclusively residential; one can find places of worship, hammams, zawiyas, and maqams: schools are numerous in this area. After classes, the alleyways liven up because of the youngsters who joyfully play at their favourite games. Small shops are spread out side by side along narrow streets: grocers, butchers, greengrocers, popular pastry shops and restaurants that serve the classical bean, chickpea, or falafel dishes. One can also find a tinsmith and a “primus”
repairman, those pressure stoves, relics of past days. Not far from the mosques, a multitude of cafés spread out visited both by the habitués and by the fishermen before they take to sea.
These various activities are in stark contrast to the severe facades and austerity of the roads. Apart from the vaulted shops open at alley level, nothing reveals the intense life hidden behind those blind walls. In fact, only a few permanently-closed doors are set in them. Thus, a walk through the old Saida takes on an air of mystery. At daybreak, the bakeries of the old town of Saida serve “manakish” for breakfast, a traditional Lebanese bread with thyme.
The beautiful entrance door of prince Fakherddine II seraglio is today an integral part of the “Bab el Saraya” café.
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