Ever since the remotest antiquity, wherever people
have had horses they have held races. The horse, proud
friend of man, easily domesticated, swift runner,
and highly adaptable, is a creature of great beauty.
He dominates processions and public races, arousing
the enthusiasm of young and old. Many civilizations
have left us the remains of their hippodromes, which
existed in Babylon, Phoenician Tyre, and Rome and
have continued down to the present day, At Vincennes
in France, at Epsom in South England with its famous
Derby, and at Beirut itself. . Here it lies near Museum
Square, a road connection in south-west Beirut, next
to the French Embassy, covering an extensive stretch
of land of two square kilometers, planted with pine
trees ever since the Ottoman occupation. Here, on
Saturdays and Sundays particularly, races are run
on the track.
The principal entrance is on the main road between
the Museum and the Barbir Crossing. The track on which
the horses run is circular, and punters and spectators
take their places on a grandstand provided for them.
On the north side are the stables where care is taken
of the horses, which are the private property of certain
breeders with a passion for gambling on the races.
The Beirut Hippodrome, whose official name is Hippodrome
du Parc de Beyrouth, is the one important horse-racing
track for Beirut and Lebanon. It was first laid out
in 1885 in the Bir Hassan suburb, and then in 1918
was moved to land adjoining Abdallah Yafi Avenue,
next to the Beirut Pine Woods Forêt des Pins.
It was at the Résidence des Pins that in 1920
General Gouraud proclaimed the existence of Greater
With an eye to horse races on the national and international
levels, the Hippodrome enlarges its range of events
every spring so as to offer over 160 spectacles at
more than 24,000 visitors come from Lebanon, Syria,
Jordan, Cyprus and Europe.
All this tradition goes a long way back into the past,
with horses and races in Lebanon enjoying an honorable
reputation. The hippodrome of Tyre, quite well preserved
even now, was one of the largest and most impressive
of the ancient Roman Empire, rivaling even that of
Olympia. The old hippodrome of Beirut has disappeared,
but relics of its glorious past may be seen in the
Beirut National Museum.
The land and the seating of the present racecourse
are the property of the Beirut City Council, while
the management belongs to a non-profit organization,
the SPARCA (in English, the Society for the Protection
and Valorization of the Arab Horse in Lebanon). The
interest shown by a large number of lovers of the
Arab horse will ensure its continuity and prosperity
and its place in the history of sport.
In fact the Arab horse is one of the achievements
of Mother Nature. Up till the end of the 19th century,
certain outstanding Lebanese devoted themselves passionately
to this noble animal and encouraged its use in racing.
Despite much pain and fatigue, they traveled all over
the Syrian Desert in order to make a choice of the
best performing steeds for the benefit of their own
stables. In our day, this passion for the Arab horse
has spread all over the world, while competition has
been the leading factor in its breeding. The Beirut
Hippodrome was conceived in order to perpetuate the
Arab breed and its sandy track has proved one of the
best testing grounds for its speed and vigor.
Translation from the French: Kenneth Mortimer
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