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Beirut: A city of contrasts

By CNN's Hala Gorani

Hala Gorani and architect Nabil Gholam on Martyrs' Square.


BEIRUT, Lebanon (CNN) -- From my Beirut hotel room window on the 19th floor, I have a perfect view of the spot where Rafiq Hariri was assassinated in February 2005.

It is still cordoned off, more than a year after a massive bomb killed the former Lebanese Prime Minister and almost twenty other people.

The seaside Hotel Saint George -- the center of high society Beirut in the 60's -- is still in ruins. Another nearby building is still a wrangled mess, with structural steel rods jutting out of blackened stone.

The scars of the event that catapulted Lebanon into a new chapter of its history last year are not only still visible; they are being kept purposely intact.

In Beirut filming the next edition of Inside the Middle East, I think of one of the stories we will be featuring in this month's show on the cultural casualties of conflict.

Just as the Lebanese do today, Iraqis, for decades to come, will have their own visual reminders of the war that is threatening to tear their country apart.

Understandably, most Iraqis are now entirely focused on staying alive and providing for their families.

But the destruction of the Samarra Mosque's golden dome reminded us of an issue that has had archeologists and experts worried for years: The conflict that is killing people is also dealing a severe blow to Iraq's heritage.

Aneesh Raman reports this month on how the destruction of holy sites and the theft of ancient treasures won't just affect Iraqis, but all of us: Some of the lost artifacts are as old as our modern civilization and belong to humankind's collective memory.

Here in Beirut, apart from a pristine rebuilt center, bullet-riddled buildings and half-destroyed structures are still commonplace.

"Sometimes, it's important to keep the scars so you remember how bad it was," renowned Lebanese architect Nabil Gholam told me on a tour of Martyr's Square.

Most readers probably know Martyrs' Square as the gathering point for the young "Cedar revolutionaries", who demanded Syria pull out from Lebanon after Hariri's killing.

During the war, the square divided East and West Beirut. The statue of the Martyrs is dotted with bullet and shrapnel holes, more than 15 years after the end of the conflict.

But Beirut is nothing if not a city of contrasts.

From our tour of urban Beirut, a story we are shooting for a future show takes us to one of the trendiest nightclubs of the Lebanese capital. And it is immediately clear the type of clientele it caters to.

There are two Ferraris parked bang at the entrance of the Crystal club (something tells me my compact V.W. wouldn't make the cut here.) The men are fashionable and the women wear fitted tops and designer jeans.

At Crystal, spending lots of money gets you instant respect. Beirut-based jeweler Paolo Bonja has his name printed in cursive font on one of the club walls because, I'm told, he "sponsors" the VIP table.

Club-goers who spend the most on Crystal champagne during the summer months, I'm told, get their names inscribed on a list.

"The party doesn't really get started until 1 a.m.," shouts Saad, one of the men at our table.

Not long after that, I was soundly sleeping in bed.

I must be getting old.

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