Hotel Gebeily


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hotel gebeily aley under construction 1930s
old gebeily hotel aley
old gebeily hotel aley lebanon
gebeily hotel aley old photo
1931 aley grand hotel gebeily

Glory Days

The Grand Hotel Gebeily was Aley’s first luxury hotel.
Built in 1926 by three brothers from a wealthy Beiruti trading family, the hotel was designed by the famous Italian architect Bindo Manham, who also constructed the plans for the Maghen Avraham Synagogue of Beirut.

Sitting on a hilltop, with then-unobstructed views of Beirut and the surrounding mountains, the Hotel’s reputation for luxury and elegance quickly spread, not just in Lebanon, but Europe and the Arab world, attracting wealthy Beirutis and foreign dignitaries. The train made the trip to Aley a pleasant journey for summer vacations.

But the Grand Hotel Gebeily’s glory days were short-lived.
In the 1940s, at the start of the second world war, the British army requisitioned the hotel as its headquarters, setting up a command and communication centre within the building. Later, when the allied forces – led by the Australian Imperial Forces (AIF) along with British and French troops – invaded Syria and Lebanon, the AIF general who headed the offensive used the hotel as his HQ. This strategic location played a pivotal role in the history of Lebanon’s independence.

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From Gebeily to Ghraizi

Following WW2, the Grand Gebeily Hotel enjoyed a revival, becoming renowned for its evening entertainment – singers, concerts, ballroom dancing, tea-parties, tennis, gambling … even the garden outside was at one stage enlarged to accommodate a pool with rowing boats.

It was the golden era – Grand Hotel Gebeily was the first venue to host the incredible Egyptian artist Oum Kalthoum outside of her motherland. Farid al-Atrash and Abdel-Halim Hafez, among many famous names, performed at this illustrious location.

The restaurant served French cuisine, guests sipped champagne on the terrace, the hotel welcomed royalty and heads of state from around the world.

Once again, this success was short-lived.

Hotel Gebeily was forced to close down once again following the start of the Lebanese Civil War.

Ultimately, this took its toll and the Gebeilys sold the hotel. Repairs would have been too costly, it was no longer profitable to open continuously as in the past, and operating costs had become prohibitive. It is said that personal threats from militias forced the family to sell for a fraction of its worth.

Aley’s Ghraizi family bought the historic property in 1977. Strangely, they repurposed the annex of the hotel as a school, remnants of which can still be seen on the site, with colorful walls painted with flowers.

The Ghraizis, too, however were plagued by financial woes and were unable to make loan repayments. The Grand Hotel Aley was then seized by the Central Bank, and left for sale under auction for several years.

The hotel was sold to Nadim Makarem in the summer of 2016. At the time, there were rumours that the Hotel Gebeily would be restored to its former glory and re-opened – that has yet to happen, but Aley is ever hopeful of the renaissance of its famous landmark.

grand hotel gebeily aley front entrance

Down but not Out

Today, the Grand Gebeily Hotel still stands, strong and proud, if somewhat battered – comprising a ground floor and two stories. A beautiful large garden surrounds the main entrance, stairs leading to magnificently carved wooden doors featuring the Hotel’s insignia.

Like so much of Aley’s historic architecture, the Grand Hotel Gebeily’s casino, which was located next to the hotel, was demolished to make way for new residential buildings.

aley-grand-hotel-gebeily garden
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From Decadence to Decay

In some respects, it is remarkable that the Grand Hotel Aley still stands, having remained relatively unharmed despite two wars. The hotel was “protected” by the Progressive Socialist Party throughout the civil war years and Syrian occupation, minimizing the damage and looting that many buildings were not so fortunate to escape.
The hotel’s strategic location may thus have contributed to its closure, as well as its preservation.

"more coming soon"

more about hotel gebeily coming soon

Beyond the broken windows and creaking doors, the interior of the Grand Gebeily Aley tells its own story.
The once-decadent, now-decaying foyer marks the entrance to a time capsule, preserving the memories of early 20th century Lebanon.

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Haunting Memento

The bar is still in its place, though it has been a very long time between drinks. Chandeliers still hang with splendour from the high ceilings above walls of peeling paint and floors covered in broken porcelain. The ballroom, with its magnificent arched full-length windows, is ethereal, outer-worldly.
The vast ground-floor kitchens provide an indication of the magnitude of the entertainment that was catered for within. The effect is of a haunting memento of a not-so-distant past.

Picture of Heather & Sami Eljurdi

Heather & Sami Eljurdi

Founders • Archivists • Editors

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