|The Saint-Georges hotel perseveres as a symbol of Lebanese resilience
|The legendary Saint-Georges hotel was partially destroyed during Lebanon's Civil War, then embroiled in a real-estate battle and finally hit in the February blast that killed former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri. But it still stands proud. Five employees were killed and two wounded in the attack that killed Hariri on Beirut's Mediterranean waterfront, yards away from the hotel's entrance.
The four-storey building no longer has doors or windows, a legacy of the 1975-90 war. The exterior looks charred and buckled. Only its pool and terrace have been spared.
Though guests can't check into the rooms, long-time enthusiasts still come to sunbathe by the pool. Even during the latter stages of the war, the Saint-Georges pool was a Beirut rendez-vous point.
Bathers are now forced to access the hotel through a side dirt road because rubble stands in the way of the main entrance and will not be removed until an international investigation into Hariri's murder is complete.
The hotel's owner, Fady Khoury, who survived the February 14 blast with minor injuries, said the hotel sustained millions of dollars in damage. It was already under reconstruction since the end of the Civil War.
Khoury's father acquired the hotel from its original owners in the 1950s.
Built in the early 1930s, the Saint-Georges was the first luxury hotel to open in Lebanon, and was named after the bay where legend says a dragon was slain by the Christian saint.
The Saint-Georges was a place where Lebanon's history was made - an essential hangout where celebrities and historical figures rubbed shoulders.
The shah of Iran, Brigitte Bardot, Dalida and Charles Aznavour all stayed at the Saint-Georges. So did British double agent Kim Philby, who was known to keep one eye on beauties by the pool and the other on his secret files.
"The bar at the Saint-Georges gives Beirut the look of a free zone for wheeler-dealers and conspiracies," wrote recently slain Lebanese journalist Samir Kassir in his book "History of Beirut." But the island of sensuality and intrigues sunk when the war broke out.
In 1975, militiamen moved in and launched the so-called "war of the hotels." Guests left immediately, and the Saint-Georges and surrounding luxury hotels were destroyed.
The disemboweled building was left abandoned for many years until peace returned to Lebanon, when Khoury's mother took it upon herself to breathe life in the once-famous hotel.
Khoury said he, too, tried to reopen the hotel itself after the war but claims he never got the required permits to rebuild the damaged structure.
The Daily Star