Beirut River

Beirut River (Arabic: نهر بيروت, Nahr Bayrūt) is a river in Lebanon. The river runs east to west, then curves north, separating the city of Beirut from its eastern suburbs, primarily Bourj Hammoud and Sin el Fil. According to popular legend, St. George slew the dragon in a spot near the mouth of the river.[1]


The river flows from snow drains and springs on the western slopes of Mount Kneisseh and the southern end of Mount Sannine[2] near the towns of Hammana and Falougha,[3] emptying at Beirut's northern Mediterranean coast, east of the Port of Beirut.


Stone Age

During the Stone Age, Beirut was two islands in the delta of the Beirut River, but over the centuries, the river silted up, and the two islands were connected into one land mass.[4] The right bank of the Beirut River, southwest of the mountain resort town of Beit Mery at an altitude of approximately 125 metres (410 ft) above sea level is an archeological site, "Beit Mery I," that was found by Jesuit Father Dillenseger who determined it to be an Acheulean site; the archaeological finds from the site were donated to the French Faculty of Medicine at the Saint Joseph University.[5]


In antiquity, the river was known as Magoras,[6] and it was the site of the worship of the god of Heliopolis.[7] The Romans built an aqueduct, which had a 240-meter bridge crossing the river, to supply Beirut (Berytus) with water.[8]


It is believed that Fakhreddine, Lebanon's Renaissance prince, built or repaired a bridge of seven arches on the river that was a streamlet in summer but swelled into a raging torrent in winter.[9][10]

Industrial Age

In the Industrial Age, the banks of the river, which had been marshy lands that flooded each winter season, especially in Bourj Hammoud,[11] became home to warehouses and shipping services due to the close proximity of the river to the port.[12] By the mid-1800s, Beirut had expanded to within 10 kilometers of the river, which continued to supply the city with water via the Roman aqueduct.[13]


Beirut River Valley

According to environmentalists, the 20-kilometer valley of the Beirut River, especially the upper valley, is one of the most important areas for bird migration in Lebanon, including birds of 33 different species, such as the European Honey-buzzard, Levant Sparrowhawk Accipiter brevipes, Common Buzzard Buteo buteo, White Stork, White Pelican, European Nightjar Caprimulgus europaeus, European Bee-eater Merops a piaster, Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica and the Lesser Spotted Eagle.[14]

Urban Sprawl

The river valley stretches across several municipalities that do not formally protect it from hunting, fire, urban development, deforestation, water pollution and overgrazing.[15] Once the river reaches the city limits of the Greater Beirut metropolitan area, it becomes polluted with the major source of pollution being industrial waste from various factories along the bank as well as sewage and refuse from the slaughterhouse in Karantina.[16] In 2004, Cedar Environmental built a composter, aiming to prevent the slaughterhouse from directly dumping waste into the Beirut River.[17][18]

Flood Risks

The river was transformed from a riparian river to a concrete canal in 1968.[19] In 1970, extensive work was done along the river bank to protect the eastern suburb of Bourj Hammoud from floods. In 1974, ETEC Consulting Engineers were hired to design a flood control system that included a channel 32 meters wide, with capacity of 800 m3/s.[20]

Environmentalists warned in 2003 that some construction companies were dumping illegally in the river that prompted the passing of Law 148 which stipulated that all construction projects should be located at least 500 meters away from the main rivers in Lebanon.[21]

In 2005, storms caused flood damage in the suburbs of Bourj Hammoud and Karantina, and a bridge adjacent to the Port of Beiurt collapsed due to water pressure.[22] In 2005, the City of Bourj Hammoud in conjunction with CETE Méditerranée with logistical support from the City of Marseille, initiated a risks diagnosis that revealed seismic, flood and technological risks for the suburb.[23]

Rehabilitation of the River

There is great interest among Lebanese to rehabilitate the Beirut River and turn it into a sustainable, green public space, an environmentally friendly transportation and water reserve system.

In 2009, Sandra Frem proposed in her dissertation at Massachusetts Institute of Technology "measures for restoring the river, creating public space and enhancing the quality and management of water".[24]

In 2010, Phillipe Skaff, head of Green Party of Lebanon, proposed a 10-year plan, and envisioned by ERGA Architecture House of Elie and Randa Gebrayel,[25] to turn the Beirut River into a conservation area containing parks, nature reserves, bike-paths, sports facilities, cafes and verdant boulevards as well as a high-speed electric train.[26]

Also in 2010, a studio course, An Alternative Guide to Beirut: A Studio on Infrastructure & Tourism, offered at the American University of Beirut's Department of Architecture and Design and facilitated by Carla Aramouny & J. Matthew Thomas encouraged students to propose sustainable solutions for the Greater Beirut metropolitan area, including the rehabilitation of the river. Carl Gerges' "Beirut River in Sin el Fil", Ralph Gebara's "Hybrid Beirut", and Nathalie Saleh's "The Beirut Thermal Baths" were among the creative ideas proposed.[27]

Sabbag Assi Architects proposed a 210,000 m2 urban-master plan in 2010 for the development of the former agricultural lands that existed between Beirut River and Beirut-Damascus highway; the aim was to prevent a disorganized urban development of the area and allow for a sustainable increase in land value. The plan included vehicular and pedestrian streets, combined with landscaped, public space and cultural facilities, such as a museum of modern art.[28]

To date, the government of Lebanon has not taken any initiative to rehabilitate the river, and the creative ideas proposed by numerous Lebanese environmentalists and architects remain on paper.

Since 2013, theOtherDada,[29] a regenerative architecture and consultancy firm led by Adib Dada, has been conducting an extensive research on the Beirut River and its neighboring areas. The Beirut RiverLESS research project explored how this natural riparian ecosystem was transformed into a sewage infrastructure, a no man’s land which inhibited the rich cultural practices around the site.

The ongoing research covers the historical, cultural and environmental aspects of the site and is conducted through field research, community meetings, student competitions, and artist commissions.

In May 2019, and in collaboration with SUGi[30] and Afforestt,[31] theOtherDada planted Beirut's RiverLESS Forest, the first native urban forest of Lebanon. Located on the North bank of the Beirut River in Sin el Fil, the project restored the forest ecosystem that previously existed by the river. The second part of the planting was completed in November 2019, amounting to 2,000 native trees & shrubs in 500 sqm of restored land by the capital’s polluted river.[32][33]

The project falls under theOtherForest[34] initiative: a nature-based tool for ecological and social regeneration.

This forest was planted using the Miyawaki Technique, a proven Japanese method used to create forests in different climates around the world. Miyawaki forests are dense multi-layered forests, 30 times denser than other manmade forest, thus capturing 30 times more CO2 and 30 times more pollution. They are 10 times faster growing, they restore soil health and biodiversity in degraded sites. They become completely self-sufficient after 3 years, requiring no watering nor maintenance.[35]

Beirut’s RiverLESS Forest earned the D&AD Future Impact award in 2019 and the iF Social Impact Prize in 2020, and was featured in the 5th Istanbul Design Biennial.


There are currently six bridges that cross the river, connecting Beirut with its suburbs. Starting from north to south:

  • Charles Helou
  • Armenia
  • Yerevan
  • El Wati
  • Furn el Chebak
  • El Basha

Additionally, there are two highway exits over the river: one off the Emile Lahoud Highway and one off the Charles Helou Highway.


  1. Auguste Frédéric Louis Viesse de Marmont, The Present State of the Turkish Empire, page 237
  2. Thomson, William McClure. The land and the Book: or, Biblical illustrations drawn from the manners and customs, the scenes and scenery, of the Holy Land
  5. Lorraine Copeland; P. Wescombe (1965). Inventory of Stone-Age sites in Lebanon, p. 75. Imprimerie Catholique. Retrieved 21 July 2011.
  6. Khoury and Ragette, Beirut of Tomorrow: Planning for Reconstruction
  7. Cook, Stanley Arthur. The Religion of Ancient Palestine in the Light of Archaeology
  8. Morgan, James F. The Prodigal Empire: The Fall of the Western Roman Empire, page 87
  9. Porter, Josias. A handbook for travellers in Syria and Palestine: Volume 1, page 407
  10. Inchbold, A. C. Under the Syrian sun: the Lebanon, Baalbek, Galilee, and Judæa: Volume 1, page 204
  12. Berytus Archaeological Studies: Volume 43; Volume 43, page 246 - 247
  13. Fawaz, Leila. An Occasion for War: Civil Conflict in Lebanon and Damascus in 1860, page 116
  16. "Beirut River retains 'honor' of being among most polluted", Daily Star 2004-11-02
  17. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-10-06. Retrieved 2011-11-04.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  19. Frem, Sandra. Nahr Beirut : Projections on an Infrastructural Landscape
  20. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-04-25. Retrieved 2011-11-03.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  23. "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-05-02. Retrieved 2011-11-03.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  24. Frem, Sandra. Nahr Beirut : Projections on an Infrastructural Landscape
  25. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-04-25. Retrieved 2011-11-04.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  28. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-04-25. Retrieved 2011-11-04.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  32. "Rewilding Concrete Jungles" (PDF). Monocle Magazine. Retrieved 2021-04-12.
  33. "Beirut's RiverLESS Forest". Society for Ecological Restoration. Retrieved 2021-04-12.
  35. "Miyawaki Forests - theOtherDada". Retrieved 2021-04-12.