A culture and arts festival will open the typically off-limits Horsh Beirut Park free to the public for nearly two weeks, organizers and the Beirut mayor announced Tuesday.
Candy and popcorn stands and theater stages will be set up around the pine-tree-lined park for the festival, which starts Thursday and will run until the beginning of October.
The French and Arabic event put on by the education group Assabil and the Ile de France region includes free admission from 5-10 p.m. for music, theater and dance performances.
In the evening there will be shows for children such as marionette performances while at night the festival will be focused on an adult audience with poetry readings and plays.
Jazz and Lebanese musical groups are scheduled to play and dance groups around the region are slated to perform. And there will be a daily bike trail through the park.
“I want to emphasize that the Horsh Beirut Festival will be an occasion for all to enter the park and enjoy the protected natural surroundings as well as enjoy the performances of poetry, singing, theater, music and short stories for young people and adults,” Beirut Mayor Bilal Hamad said at the launch of the festival.
The festival at Horsh al-Sanawbar Park will be one of a handful of occasional openings of the park to the public, which is considered by many the last green expanse in a city that is otherwise covered with concrete and high rises. Since 1992 the park has largely remained closed despite occasional campaigns from public advocacy groups to have it open to the public.
State officials say they currently don’t have the resources to protect the park from being ruined by visitors or used for political ends.
Hamad said the city was in the process of opening the park, but only after a private firm was hired to care for its maintenance and security.
For now, to gain access to the park visitors are required to be above 35 and hold a special license from the municipality. Bribes and a foreign passport are also known to get visitors through the front gate.
Portions of the park are opened for special events throughout the year when sponsored by groups that take responsibility for the cleanup after events. Most recently, a small area of Horsh Beirut opened during Eid al-Fitr as an amusement park for families to celebrate during the holiday.
During the news conference at the Beirut municipal headquarters, NGO and local leaders discussed the park and the festival. Some people raised concern over a limited opening of the part and the timing of the event.
“I hope this is a great occasion to have a personal gathering with everyone throughout Horsh Beirut,” Hamad said. But as for opening the park year-round Hamed said that would take time.
Hamad suggested that a successful opening of the park for the festival bodes well for opening the park more to the public in the future.
“I’m for such activities,” the mayor said about events that open the park in cooperation with a private group. “I’ll give them the support they need.” (daily star)