Can’t see the wood for the walls?

Horsh Beirut Pine Forest

no entry

Any Beiruti can tell you where Horsh Beirut is, a huge park slap in the southern centre of the city. But ask them if they’ve been there and they invariably say no. It’s a bit like skiing in the morning and swimming in the afternoon, but more complicated.

Horsh Beirut (or the Pine Forest) is one of those mysterious places nobody has ever been and if they have they cannot tell you quite how to get in. It has a trompe l’oeil entrance to the west, with a car park and large open gates. This leads to a seemingly promising walkway with rows of trees and stone benches and college couples in the corners. But this pleasant strolling area ends dramatically in a mass of barbed wire. Beyond the spiky barrier, steps lead temptingly to a much larger grounds, where neat paths disappear around lush green curves. This is Beirut’s secret garden.

Horsh Beirut Pine Forest

near the park

We circled the vast area, looking for an access point. On the two other sides of the triangle there were more impenetrable high walls and barbed wire with the occasional padlocked gate. We ventured in and out of passages but remained on the wrong side of the wall. We asked a gardener in a property on the same block. He looked pessimistic and told us we needed a pass to enter. Eventually we came across a large gate next to a small gatekeeper’s building on the north-east face near Tayouneh roundabout. The park looked empty. Then a gardener came to greet us. Without much hope, we asked if we could enter the park. He looked us over and in answer swung the gate open. We were free to roam.

Horsh Beirut Pine Forest

city centre

The place was a rare refuge from the jagged aspect and noise of construction as well as the traffic and pollution. Our delight at having the chance to discover the beautifully kept grounds was coupled with bemusement over their case by case entry system. It is, to all intents and purposes, closed to the general public. We crossed paths with just two joggers and a couple of French tourists in the whole of the park. Inside a plaque proudly proclaims to an invisible public that it was inaugurated by the President of the French region Ile-de-France.

If there is anything that Beirut needs it’s green spaces for the city dwellers to draw breath away from the fumes, noise and visual assault of the poor urban planning. It is the biggest green space in the whole of Beirut yet few local people have ever been able to visit it. Local authorities seem afraid it will become a hideout of sorts. The large pine forests are much smaller than in years past but Beirut’s biggest park is definitely worth a visit so see the tips below.

Horsh Beirut Pine Forest

cumulus pines

Tips for getting in to Horsh Beirut:

  • go well-dressed
  • go with tourists
  • go well before dark
  • leave your AK47 at home

For more information on Horsh Beirut and locals who want the park opened to the public, as well as a number of maps, check out Fadi Shayya’s book At the Edge of the City.

10 Responses to “Can’t see the wood for the walls?”

  1. ian alexander says:

    any more pics of the park? its just my sort of place.

  2. abaretruth says:

    I never thought of going there and i didn’t know it existed. I thought it was just a name sin el fil. I don’t even know where horsh tabet is exactly located. Thanks for sharing, it’s on my to do list now.

  3. Danielle says:

    Georgia, how do you find out about these places? You are on a seemingly constant quest to uncover all of the things about this country that even the locals don’t know. Great find! I just wish it was a bit more accessible. How ironic is that? The one park in the city that no one can seem to find?!?! The only reason it would turn into a hideout spot is if it was neglected. Put a couple of guard there, and you’ll be good to go! So, there IS greenery in the heart of this city!

  4. leila says:

    Hi, horsh Beirut is indeed for the lucky ones (drives me crazy that such a concept exists). To be able to benefit from the precious green area, you need to apply for a pass at the municipality of Beirut (located in Downtown). A stupid condition requires you are above 35 years of age(kids not allowed, they mess up the green gold!)!!! Lebanon is an upside down country…

    • Have you tried going, Leila? The official rules clearly come down to the gatekeeper’s discretion (or prejudice!). Neither myself nor some of the others I saw there were 35 and I’m sure they didn’t have a pass either. I think as many people should go to Horsh Beirut as possible. Do not be put off by the idea that you cannot visit if you haven’t tried! Hopefully one day those restrictions will be completely lifted.

  5. [...] ‘Secret Garden’ Off-Limits The hunger forest-covered Horsh Beirut is a place “few internal people have ever been means to visit… Local authorities seem [...]

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