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Aley's Open-Air Museum

Widely known as Lebanon’s “city of statues”, Aley is home to more than 300 works of open-air sculpture, made by artists from around the globe.

While most can be found among the pines of Ras al Jabel, others dot the streets of the city, creating unexpected eye candy for locals and tourists alike.

In 1999, Aley aspired to become a new center of international contemporary sculpture. For three consecutive years, the municipality organized international symposia: a meeting place for sculptors and artists from around the world.

The driving force behind this art-for-the-people enterprise was Aref Al Rayess, the volatile artist of Picasso-esque energy who lived in Aley and was a leading player in the Lebanese art scene.

Wanting to revitalize his town, which had previously been one of the country’s most popular summer resorts, he came up with the idea ­ (similar to the annual sculpture event organised by Basbous brothers at Rashana, near Batroun). ­ Rayess garnered the co-operation of the Municipality of Aley and also the Lebanese Association of Painters and Sculptors to serve as co-sponsors on the project.

Details of planning and organizing the event were handled under the professional eye of Al Rayess, himself a world-class sculptor, though he did not participate in the event.
Assistance to make it all happen, in funding or otherwise, came from various sources, among them the American Underwriters Group, Bank of Beirut and the Arab Countries, the Casino Piscine Aley and, of course, the municipality itself.

Garden of Stone

Initially, the site of the statues was in a garden area opposite Casino Piscine Aley, where some statues still reside today.

In that first year, there were 30 sculptors ­ – 23 Lebanese, four Syrians, two Jordanians and one Egyptian, who ­ gathered on the terraced hillside, cutting into huge blocks of stone.

Tons of stone and marble, ordered to the specifications of each sculptor, had to be purchased and transported to the site. Tents were erected to shade the laboring stone-cutters from the hot sun.

Such was the success of that first event, that it was repeated on a larger scale the following year – now moving to larger “premises” – the parklands of Ras Al Jabal, on the outskirts of the city center, overlooking the Chouf.

In year 2000, more than sixty artists were invited, from 25 countries (Europe, Middle East, Eastern Europe, United States, etc.).

A cloud of thick white dust, accompanied by the din of engines and stone sanders, signalled the location to the throng of tourists who came to watch the artists in their open-air studio.

The event was a resounding success, attracting tourists and publicity from all over Lebanon and internationally.

The municipality bore part of the costs, but private sponsors largely took over, which allowed the city to realize this  international event in Lebanon. Even the local Red Cross provided meals and refreshments for the artists, some of them working by spotlight, late into the night.

Honorary Artists

The 2000 Symposium included the works of three honorary guest artists.

The artistic mastermind of the Symposium Aley, Aref el Rayess, created a large white marble abstract sculpture.

Zaven Hadichian (1932-2018), the Lebanese avant-garde sculptor, of Armenian descent, used white stone to model an abstract design.

Sami Al Rifai, the Lebanese sculptor and painter (born in Baalbek in 1931), also modelled his design from white marble.

symposium aley statue by alexander haitof bulgaria
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Marble & Mosaic

Works were crafted from  marble, wood, mosaic and iron. Figurative, abstract, classic, modern – to each artist his own style. Alexander Haitov (Bulgaria) carved a magnificent bull’s head in black marble. With its aggressive eye, the animal seems ready to attack and exudes a natural force. Garegin Davtian (Armenia) chiselled an old winged man playing the violin. Angel or demon? On the other side of the sculpture emerges a feminine silhouette. The whole stone is streaked with stripes forming a spider’s web. And three huge black spiders in three dimensions, more real than life, who are preparing to climb … the imagination of these artists is without limits.


"There is no real deadline for the completion of the works. We respect the rhythm of the artists"

Aref el Rayess

By 2001, word of Aley’s upcoming third Symposium had spread among the international art community. The Symposium received an avalanche of applications – more than 200 artists from five continents forced the Aley Municipal Council to create a special committee to select only the most famous and renowned applicants for inclusion.

In the end, some 40 international artists were approved from no fewer than 30 different countries, as well as 18 local sculptors.

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City of Art & Culture

The event’s international flavor was illustrated not only by the abundance of foreign participants, but also in the participating and supporting organizations. Primarily sponsored by the Bank of Beirut and the Arab Countries, the 2001 Symposium was also supported by the International Federation of United Cities (FMCU), the Arab Cities Organization (ACO), UNESCO’s AIAP section and the AAPSL.
In his welcoming address, George Rafiar, the head of FMCU in Belgium, said Aley was “setting an example for development in social and cultural activities,” and that the symposium had helped the region become “a city of art and culture.”

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Symposium Aley

When & Where




Aley Ras el Jabal, also Piscine Street (opposite Casino Piscine Aley), Main Street Aley, Balcony Aley

Picture of Heather & Sami Eljurdi

Heather & Sami Eljurdi

Founders • Archivists • Editors

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City of Aley

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