A protest was held last night in Mar Mikhael after residents learned that a historic passageway through their neighborhood was being eyed by developers.

Residents told me surveyors arrived last week and planned to remove telephone poles along the old steps known as the Massad Stairs, which lead to their homes. When residents questioned the surveyors activity, the workers reportedly replied: “If removing the telephone poles bothers you, what are you going to do when we tear up the whole stairway?”

This led to last night’s protest:

Here’s what the stairs look like during the day:

Source: Paint up

Only recently a group of students pitched in to beautify the steps:

Source: Ashrafieh Stairs

Residents told me the developer plans to demolish the Massad Stairs to make way for trucks and bulldozers to access a plot of property about midway up the stairs.

That would mean destroying a historic passageway, one that links to several other sets of steps throughout the neighborhood.

The Massad Steps form part of a network of steps that interconnect throughout the hilly, historic Ashrafieh neighborhood. The steps served as a stop along the old trolley car line and were also known as the Salwan Steps, a nearby shopkeeper told me:

He couldn’t put a date on them but said the stairs were easily 150 years old. Back when he was a young man in the 1960s, droves of people used to take them on their way to or from the tramway.  He also remembers an old man about 90 years old who used to come and pray at the stairwell every few days. When asked why he was praying, the old man told him people were buried underneath the steps–that the site was once an ancient graveyard, “like much of Ashrafieh.”

Indeed a number of Roman grave sites have been found in the Ashrafieh area over the last decade and some have been demolished to make way for new developments. I suppose it’s not hard to imagine that this practice is not new, that graves have been built over in past decades as well.

The residents are meeting this week again and plan to take sustained action to protect the Massad Steps– they’ve also set up a Facebook page “Ashrafieh Steps” for updates.

It was nice to see a number of reporters on the site last night such as Bassam Kuntar from Al Akhbar. Fellow blogger Gino Raidy also has a interesting post up, recalling the stairs from his childhood.

It looks like this site is getting a lot of attention, which may make it difficult for developers to have it their way.

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