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Provoking a yearning for the Beirut that was


Nostalgia, the bittersweet emotions provoked by recollecting cherished past events or places that can never be revisited, is a facet of adulthood. Derived from two Greek words – “homecoming” and “pain” – nostalgia in the early modern period was considered to be a medical condition.

This article was featured on the Daily Star’s website ( written by India Stoughton on February the 23rd, 2011.
Imad Kozem – a Lebanese businessman born in 1966, less than a decade before the outbreak of the Civil War that forever changed the face of Beirut – has demonstrated that, nowadays, nostalgia is also a commodity.
Kozem says his early childhood days were spent at such iconic Beirut beaches as the Summerland, on family trips to Toyland (Hamra’s enormous toy store), and evenings at the cinema.

Hamra Street's Horseshoe (now Costa Coffee) was once a meeting place for actors, journalists, ministers and political exiles.
A keen collector, he has amassed an enormous assortment of paraphernalia relating to Golden Age Beirut – a booming, cosmopolitan city with a bright future ahead of it, known as the Paris of the Middle East.
Three years ago, horrified by the rapid transformation of Beirut, he decided that he could no longer keep this collection to himself. “I started to feel it was a burden,” Kozem explains. “I wanted to transmit this information [to] people so maybe they can ... realize what’s happening in this country and how we are changing.

People queue outside the Saroulla Cinema, nowadays the home of the Masrah al-Madina.
“I used to pass by and see that a movie theater was not there anymore and think, ‘What if I do another turn and come back? Maybe I will see the theater again.’ It was becoming a psychological problem. I started putting some pictures on Facebook and ... I had huge huge numbers of people commenting, liking and sharing.”
Kozem’s Facebook success led him to hunt for books documenting the Beirut of the 1960s and 1970s. When he came up empty-handed, he decided to write his own.

An ad suggesting that Beirut could be the Honolulu of the Middle East.
Over a period of three years, he collected as much material as he could find, requesting donations from old magazines, photographs, tickets and posters, and tracking down Lebanese expats – some of whom had fled the country decades before – to request photographs of the iconic establishments they used to own.
The result is “Pure Nostalgia.” Weighing in at close to 500 pages, this coffee table book offers a virtual tour of pre-Civil War Beirut. Beginning at the airport, the book moves through Verdun to Hamra to Raouche to Downtown, taking in the city’s iconic restaurants, nightclubs and hotels, its bustling shopping centers and sandy beaches en route.

Then, as now, Hamra Street's traffic congestion could keep you smiling for hours.
Read the rest of the article here.

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  1. Zeina Karrit

    I wish I can experience our “Old Beirut”!