Saifi Village: Les Quartiers des Arts
Beirut has often been described as the Paris of the Middle East. It is a city where romance flourishes under the influence of art, design, poetry and music. Right at the epicentre of Beirut’s artistic heart is Les Quartiers des Arts in Saifi Village. Located at the southeastern periphery of Downtown Beirut, Saifi Village is primarily an upmarket residential hot spot that, just over 20 years ago, was ravaged by the effects of the Lebanese civil war.
Just like much of the rest of Beirut, the village was destroyed, but it has since been redeveloped.
Today, you can wander through the village’s cobbled streets and admire the new pastel-coloured buildings with their Mediterranean pitched roofs and arched windows.
The place that draws the most international attention is the area’s art and design quarter, which was created by Solidere, the Lebanese company in charge of planning and redeveloping the entire Beirut Central District. In 2003, when the development began, the PR manager Randa Armanazi said the company had wanted to enhance the village’s traditional Levantine character by turning it into an artist’s hub.
‘When we thought about what would be suitable to include in Saifi in terms of small businesses we decided we wanted more than the usual florists or small supermarket,’ Armanazi told Lebanonism.com. ‘This is the one place in town to come to buy art where you can park your car and meander through the village and go from one gallery and specialist boutique to the next. And here, rather than struggle on their own in isolated locations around the city, art dealers, designers and artists can all benefit from the specialist clientele that come to visit that area.’
Today Les Quartiers des Arts is filled with artisan and antique shops, designer and specialist boutiques, as well as art and design galleries and studios. Among them is Solidere’s own gallery, Piece Unique, and the modern Rochane Art Gallery which has a permanent exhibition featuring the artworks of several Lebanese and international artists. Fashionistas also have their pick of internationally-renowned Lebanese designers such as Milia M and Johnny Farah.
In terms of design, Saifi’s boutiques and galleries are leading the way for the country’s designers. There are numerous upmarket design galleries such as the Chakib Richani Collection, created by one of the top 100 worldwide architects. Furniture designer, Nada Debs, also has a gallery here which blends her Western influence with her deep Middle Eastern roots. On display you will find Debs’ regular East & East and Contemporary collections, alongside her latest 60s-inspired Vintage Meets Arabesque collection, all of which have become highly sought after by worldwide design aficionados.
Debs first opened her shop in Saifi Village nine years ago as the construction of Downtown Beirut was finishing. ‘Saifi was a symbol of that construction… [it] was going to be dedicated to art and Lebanese artists so it seemed the right thing to do,’ says Debs. She also cites the eclectic local and international clientele as a major draw. Moreover, nowadays she says, the overall look and architecture of the village make it the perfect place for art and design.
Yet first and foremost, Saifi Village is a residential development with 16 new low-rise buildings, forming four clusters of apartments and a few exclusive villas. Then there are another 16 buildings that have been restored to reflect the area’s heritage. The development is between the Mediterranean Sea and the famed mountains of Lebanon and so from every apartment or two-floor penthouse there is a stunning view. Downstairs, on the brick-paved, tree-lined streets there are landscaped gardens interspersed with fountains and children’s playgrounds. There is a nursery school, convenience stores and recreation facilities. Every Saturday, too, Lebanon’s first organic farmers’ market Souk el Tayeb sets up shop. Saifi is a place where a large portion of the city’s soul is created by a group of artists just looking to introduce their heritage to the modern world and keep Beirut’s romantic spirit as alive as ever.