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An Art Lovers' Guide S02E02 Beirut (540p and 720p 50 f.p.s versions, soft Eng subs)
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Janina Ramirez and Alastair Sooke explore Beirut, the capital city of Lebanon. This fascinating crossroads between east and west has a rich history, and a troubled recent past. It's the most diverse city in the Arab world, with 18 recognised religious sects. Its French influence gave it the reputation as the Paris of the east during the mid 20th century. But this diversity turned to division in 1975 when the city became embroiled in a 15-year civil war.
In a place of so many identities and memories, art plays a unique role - as Janina and Alastair discover at the start of their journey, taking a cable car to the mountains that ring the city. Here, a stunning brutalist Christian cathedral of the Maronite Church overlooks the city's suburbs. It's an impressive expression of both the city's unique demographic mix, and of the identity of the Maronite community - one of Beirut's biggest minorities.
On their travels around the city they discover how art - and architecture - is confronting the past but also embracing the future. While Nina discovers how a bullet-ridden house has been transformed into an emotionally powerful war memorial, Alastair meets Bernard Khoury, the Middle East's most controversial architect, whose visionary buildings are designed to improve the social fabric of Beirut.
At the National Museum, they discover an incredible array of Phoenician and Roman artefacts, revealing Beirut's earliest origins. In a moodily lit basement room full of sarcophagi, Nina discovers the final resting place for several Phoenician nobles, evidence that Beirut has long been an intersection of cultures, combining classical Greek sculptural details with ancient Egyptian designs.
Alastair also encounters a street artist paying tribute to an actress who united the city in times of trouble, and Nina takes tea with an elderly Armenian couple who reflect on the city's immigrant experience. And together, they experience the hedonistic Beirut nightlife that is drawing increasing numbers of visitors from around the world.
At this fascinating crossroads between east and west, Ramirez and Sooke discover a city whose cultural life and riches offer an essential way to understand the city's complex history and identity.
First broadcast: 16 April 2018
Duration: 1 hour