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BASHOURA cemetery's airspace

By Sandra Rishani

Beirut maps highlighting cemetery location by an outline: Map1 1876 - Map2 1919- Map3 1964- Map4 1994- Map5 2011
Bashoura's built space to open air ratio is one of the least shocking in relationship to Beirut's other neighborhoods. This is mainly attributed to the large historic cemetery that creates a breathing space in the middle of the dense neighborhood. Yet when the cemetery was planned it was surrounded by plantations; today it is surrounded by apartment buildings. The cemeteries location today actually allows the neighborhood fresh air, ventilation space, and direct sunlight.

Photo by Sandra Rishani 2009. A void in the city. Bashoura Beirut cemetery
Today urban cemeteries are increasingly viewed as amenity landscapes that may provide charming and ecological values to the communities that surround them. However, cemeteries have historically been seen as sacred spaces; people are, after all, laid to rest in them. At the time of their establishment, most cemeteries were typically a fringe-belt land. Established on what were the outskirts of the built-up areas, many cemeteries are now surrounded by dense urban development. Aside from small religious buildings and family plots, cemeteries were seldom planned as an urban land use.

Several reasons for ignoring this very spatial land use come to mind. In the nineteenth century, municipal governments saw burial grounds as potential health hazards. In addition, 'cemeteries, even those privately owned and operated for profit, are mostly not typically subject to property taxes, so they provide little municipal revenue'.

For planners, the most frustrating open spaces to contemplate are the cemeteries of the city. Together, they take up a large amount of space.... I have toyed with the thought of all of the good things that could be done with the land were there a relocation effort and also explored the airspace over sanctified grounds, but UNDERSTAND that this might be a politically and religiously explosive matter. Yet this should not prevent us from investigating on this blog the possibilities of cemeteries and their air space.

In Bashoura the cemetery has become overwhelmed by graves covered by their marble top. Its dead occupants have taken over the site and turned it all into a marbled raised ground. Two large trees only exist on the site. Even though as is the site already creates a breathing space for the neighborhood, inspired by the plug in 1960s, I wonder may we ‘respectively’ takeover its airspace and hang from cranes along its walls large plant holders to green the Grey open space?

'Plug in'  plant and tree holders. Bashoura Beirut
Floating trees. Bashoura Beirut Lebanon
Greening the Grey with Plug ins that take over scared grounds airspace.

Could designing garden\public space, a physical program that has historically been rooted in the grounds surface be re-conceived in order to maintain significant sites while accommodating growth?

The possibility of such a plug in light infrastructure that can add green to all those sacred grounds without moving them may be intriguing. Nevertheless, if this is not possible for now, cemeteries such as Bashoura which are already nearly full should be accessible to the public. With a city like Beirut in which public space is so scarce cant we have a walk, read a book or just respectively relax on a tombstone? IF the city consciously decides to open up such spaces the cemetery edges and entrances may be re-planned to allow easy access to the residents of Beirut.

This article was originally published at Beirut the Fantastic and it has been re-published with the authorization of its author Sandra Rishani


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