Environment and development
in coastal regions and in small islands
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Saïda (Lebanon): in search of integrated and sustainable development

Pages from a project proposal submitted
by Eric Bachy
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In the framework of the UNESCO project ‘Urban Development and Freshwater Resources: Small Coastal Cities’, the municipality of Saïda (amongst others) signed a letter of intent on co-operation in the creation of a network of small and medium sized coastal towns. This was done on the last day of the International Seminar on Urban Development and Freshwater Resources: Small Coastal Cities organized by UNESCO, held between the 24th and 26th November 1997 in Essaouira, Kingdom of Morocco.

The mayor of Saïda, Mr. Ahmad Kalash, attended the seminar after which he and Mrs. Bahia El Hariri of the Hariri Foundation, made an official request for Saïda to be involved in the project.

A representative from UNESCO’s Management of Social Transformations (MOST) programme and one from the International Hydrological Programme (IHP) planned to visit Saïda by the end of 1998 to identify activities to aid the integrated urban development of Saïda, taking into account the protection of Saïda’s socio-cultural heritage as well as the sound management of natural resources, enhancement of the environment and the improvement of living conditions in the Old City. This would be done in conjunction with representatives of the municipality, the Hariri Foundation and the Association de Sauvegarde de Saïda and, of course, in collaboration with the UNESCO Office in Beirut and the National Commission for UNESCO.

Case Study: Saïda   Saida and its suburbs.
From: De Sidon à Saïda by Eric Bachy

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Saïda, a small town on the eastern Mediterranean coast, has an ancient past that is shrouded in myth, not unlike Tyr, Alexandria, Byzantium, Athens and Carthage. It was one of the first places in the Mediterranean basin to be settled; thus this harbour city has participated in shaping humanity. Its origins, strangely enough, are relatively unknown and need to be rediscovered and revitalised.

At the beginning of this century the city outgrew its original boundaries and a ‘new city’ of wide avenues now surrounds the old centre. These suburbs are home to the wealthier classes while the old city with its decaying infrastructure and poor hygiene has been left to poorer, sometimes displaced, people.

The advent of the automobile also had detrimental effects on the town. Haphazard road planning, improvised parking lots, pollution, noise and vibration all contribute to the general disorganization of the town plan.

The Old City of Saïda

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From: Réhabilitation et mise en valeur du centre ancien de Saïda,
by B. Fonquernie, UNESCO, 1993

These forces, when brought into the context of restructuring Lebanon, raise the question of heritage, which, for this small southern Lebanese town, emanates from its earth, its rock and its water. In ancient times Sidon, as it was then called, would not have become what it was without a blend of favourable natural and geographic factors. The link between its marine and terrestrial environment also contributed favourably to Sidon’s development.

Saïda in 1848. (J. L. Porter) From Réhabilitation et mise en valeur du centre ancien de Saïda,
by B. Fonquernie, UNESCO, 1993

Saïda's strategic geographical position between the east and the west placed it on caravan and sea transport routes and produced an architecture and social structure able to cope with its dual role. The artistic and cultural richness that emerged from these exchanges is what we today recognise as its historical and cultural heritage.

As with the natural and social environment, cultural and architectural heritage is subject to reorganization and equilibrium. It should be realized that Saïda is unique with unique opportunities.

Cultural & Historical Heritage in Danger

Saïda maintains a strong link with history, and with the modernization of Lebanon, the question of whether it can be integrated into the modernization process becomes inevitable.

  View from the Khân el Franj terrace.
The castle and the sea mosque.
    From: Réhabilitation et mise en valeur du centre ancien de Saïda,
by B. Fonquernie, UNESCO, 1993

In the twentieth century Saïda has undergone a demographic explosion, modernization, rural emigration, civil war and population displacement, and as a result it no longer has an economic or cultural role. Saïda now has to prepare for a new era and the economic and cultural forces acting on the city have to be assessed. With the recent involvement of MOST (Management of Social Transformations) and the International Hydrological Programmes (IHP) with the Coastal Region and Small Island (CSI) unit, UNESCO is determined to take action to assist Saïda in its efforts to develop in a sustainable way.

Overview of the Scenery and Environment

Saïda’s geographical position and local environment have played an important role both in the city’s foundation and development. The character of the coastline with a line of rocks (formed from dunes during the last ice age) favourably oriented against strong winds and waves is without doubt one of the main reasons for the establishment of the first settlement. Plentiful rain, neighbouring hills, a fertile plain, two rivers - all favoured the growth of the first settlement and its eventual development into the city of Saïda.

From the beginning nature and climate have shaped Saïda; their influence is visible in the architecture and the city plan. Saïda is a city that exists between land and sea. Its situation and picturesque buildings have been a source of inspiration for painters.

Planning Future Development Projects

The reconstruction of Lebanon.
From: De Sidon à Saïda by Eric Bachy

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As the twenty-first century approached, it was time to assess Saïda’s social and territorial dynamics through observation, research, understanding and assimilation. A more complete understanding of the situation would itself dictate the action to be taken. Hence Saïda’s involvement in the UNESCO network of small coastal cities. The ‘success’ of this project would depend on several factors:

  1. the extent to which social needs are linked to urban development;
  2. the level of co-operation and degree of participation between organizations, local authorities, non-governmental organizations, research and education institutions.
  3. the degree to which lessons learnt are communicated and applied. Direct involvement of the town’s folk was deemed essential in order to create and awaken an urban conscience and environmental citizenship.
  4. the establishment of an information network and database.
  5. creation of a base-line document.
  6. appropriate use of scientific and pedagogic tools.

In this way the ultimate goal of the project, to encourage socio-cultural and economic development of the city while preserving the coastal environment and natural resources, could be achieved.

A Ray of Hope

Saïda has retained its historic coastal centre. Several restoration activities undertaken jointly by the municipality, the Saïda Heritage and Environment Association and the Hariri Foundation are progressing encouragingly and it is hoped that this initiative will spread to encompass non-monumental buildings and public space. While preserving the structural heritage of the Medina, its architecture and ornamentation; its history, culture and above all inhabitants must not be neglected. The culture must be made to live on in the younger generation. At the dawn of the twenty first century sites that represented the collective memories of Sidonians and Lebanese were branded indispensable to the future of the country.

Saïda: a dialogue between land and sea
  Once Saïda was famous for its
orchards, but now they are fragmentary

The river Awali as it passes Echmoun
  The rock wall that protected
the original settlement
  An island that has offered a protective
anchourage since ancient times
From: De Sidon à Saïda by Eric Bachy


Action Plan for Integrated Town Development: Priorities
  1. Involve the public and decision-makers in revitalizing the historic waterfront, upgrading housing and services, enhancing traditional activities.
  2. Undertake an evaluation of freshwater resources, the water system in the old city and the interaction of new infrastructures with the existing urban fabric.
  3. Raise the issue of heritage in the reconstruction and modernisation of Saïda in particular the integration of archeology into today’s urban planning.
  4. Take stock of major present and forthcoming development projects - motorways, port, sports complexes - making clear the impact of these projects on the historical centre, and natural and social environment of the region.
  5. Provide information to the public and decision-makers to make them aware of the potential for integrated urban development.

For more information contact:

Management of Social Transformations (MOST)/CITIES Architecture,
Fax: 33-(0)1 - 45 68 57 24, attn: Brigitte Colin

UNESCO Beirut Office
Cité Sportive Avenue, P.O. Box 5244,
Beirut, Lebanon
Fax.: (961-1) 82 48 54
Tel.: (961-1) 85 00 13/14/15/75
e-mail: uhbei@unesco.org

Coastal Regions and Small Islands (CSI) Unit
Fax: 33 (0)1 - 45 68 58 08, attn: Alexei Suzyumov

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