Excerpt from the book
In the early 1880s, one of Beirut’s flourishing printing presses published the first six volumes of a monumental Arabic encyclopedia: Dā’irat al-ma֫ārif, composed by Butrus al-Bustānī. In the fifth volume, the city’s most prolific nineteenth-century writer and influential public intellectual dedicated ten pages to the long history of Beirut. The encyclopedia entry, which culminates in lists of architectural landmarks and demographic details, not only informs the reader of Beirut’s coordinates in the global grid of latitudes and longitudes, in the Arabic alphabetical order ‘Bayrut’ also ranges between the entries for Peru (Bayrū) and Perugia (Bayrūjā). In a world of words, the city of Beirut had entered the academic stage of urban representations. In the Beirut entry of Dā’irat al-ma֫ārif the entire history of the Eastern Mediterranean and Greater Syria—or Bilad al-Sham—is told as the story of the changing fortunes of this city.