In Beirut’s rapidly evolving skyline, a newly built cathedral bell tower has risen next to the soaring minarets of a landmark mosque, symbolizing both religious coexistence and competition in a city split by sectarian war from 1975 to 1990.
The new bell tower of the 19th century Saint George Cathedral is Beirut’s tallest at 72 metres (236 feet) - the same height as the four minarets of the Mohammad al-Amin mosque that has dominated the city skyline since it was built over a decade ago.
Topped with an enormous cross that lights up at night, the bell tower was inaugurated at the weekend after a decade of construction.
Both the church and mosque are prominent features of the Beirut city centre that is still being rebuilt from the civil war, and are located near the frontline that divided Christian east Beirut from Muslim west Beirut during the conflict.
Archbishop Paul Matar said the idea of building a bell tower at Saint George Cathedral was a dream since its construction in 1894. It was originally supposed to be 75 metres high, the same size as the tower at Rome’s Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore that inspired the cathedral’s design.
But instead, Matar said he shaved three metres off the design in what he described as a message of coexistence.
“When the mosque was built we were happy there would be a mosque and a church near each other. This is the slogan of Lebanon,” he said in an interview at his offices in Beirut. “So therefore I wanted the tower’s height to be at the same height as the mosque, so there is solidarity and harmony,” he said.
Saint George Maronite Cathedral's new bell tower is pictured near al-Amin mosque in downtown Beirut, Lebanon November 17, 2016. Picture taken November 17, 2016. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir