Tripoli, Lebanon (CNN)The ancient Lebanese port city of Tripoli is possibly the last place anyone would expect to find an abandoned trove of futuristic modern architecture.
But weirdly, that’s exactly what can be found among its 14th-century mosques, arcades and schools.
Even more weirdly, it’s almost always deserted.
These space-age buildings are the work of Brazilian Oscar Niemeyer, widely considered one of the founders of modern architecture.
He designed the 10,000-hectare site, intended as an international fairground, after a single visit to Tripoli in 1962.
Construction, however, was halted at the outset of Lebanon’s civil war in 1975, and never resumed.
Despite some damage inflicted during the war, and the Syrian army’s occupation of the site in the 1980s, the structures still stand largely intact.
But few people visit beyond evening joggers and the occasional tourist, marveling at having struck Instagram gold.
That needn’t be the case — enterprising local Tripoli Mira Minkara gives regular tours of the fairground.
CNN joined her to find out more.
So why’s it here?
An architecturally cutting-edge fairground attracting tourists and delegates from around the world over might seem like an anomaly in today’s Lebanon, struggling to hold its ground as violence and refugees from the war in neighboring Syria threaten to engulf it.
But in the 1960s Lebanon was swinging, a hotbed for intellectuals and jet-set starlets from Europe and the U.S., as well as the Arab world.
And along came Niemeyer with his grand vision — and he didn’t hold back.
As well as Jetsonesque monuments, the Tripoli park includes an outdoor theater space surrounded by a moat-like reflective pool (a Niemeyer hallmark).
This is the focal center point of the park. There’s a steep ramp leading up to the soaring arch at the top; from here it’s possible to see the stage, and the white seats which create a satisfying honeycomb effect.
The concrete stage with its sail-shaped sound amplifier (Niemeyer called it a voile acoustique, or acoustics veil), and the white seats added in the ’90s are perhaps the most photographed sites at the park; the arch is iconic enough to appear as a special Tripoli filter on Snapchat.
Like the Lebanese Pavilion, the stage is meant to be surrounded by water, separating the performers from their audience.
“In the 1990s, Russian ballets, Arabic singers, and rock bands played here — but that stopped when the assassinations began in 2003,” Minkara says, referring to the spate of killings that took the life of former prime minister Rafic Hariri in 2005, among others.
No one now treads the concrete boards of the stage except skateboarders and the occasional tourist.
The park’s only major departure from Niemeyer’s signature space-age design style, the Lebanese Pavilion’s arches were inspired by Lebanon’s traditional architecture, an amalgam of Ottoman, Islamic, and Venetian styles.
Niemeyer intended the pavilion to be a multi-level gallery space for exhibitions related to Lebanon, surrounded by a pool of water so the building’s arches would be reflected by the water.
The arches of the pavilion “are more stretched” than those of the Lebanese house, says Minkara, because concrete allowed a more dramatic curve than the traditional wood.
The effect is that while inside, one still has the feeling of being outside — a central theme to many of Niemeyer’s constructions.
The pointed arches also reflect the shape of the peaks of Mount Lebanon in the distance, pink against the setting sun.
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Inside Lebanon’s forgotten fairground of the future