Serail Hill is Beirut’s main government center, overlooking the city center. There are three important monuments on the hill. The Grand Serail is the most impressive. It was originally a garrison for the Ottoman army. Construction began in 1853, shortly after the Ottoman’s regained control of the region from Egypt. It was soon repurposed into a headquarters for governors both Ottoman and later French of Beirut. Today it is a government palace and headquarters of the Prime Minister of Lebanon. The Grand Serail has been heavily reconstructed in recent years, but is an excellent example of Ottoman architecture, with 40,000m² of floor space and a whopping 430 rooms.
Located next door to the Grand Serail is the Ottoman Military Hospital, built by Sultan Abdul Aziz in 1865. The French converted it into a courthouse and after independence it was used by the Lebanese University’s School of Fine Arts. It was almost completely destroyed during the civil war. Former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri completely restored the former hospital, and today the former hospital serves as the headquarters for Lebanon’s Council for Development and Reconstruction.
The Hamidiya Clock Tower was built by the Ottomans in 1897 to commemorate the tenth anniversary of Sultan Abdul Hamid II’s coronation. It was intended for use by the public for prayer timings. At 25m tall it was the tallest structure in Beirut upon its completion. The tower houses a huge bell weighing more than 300kg on the third floor. A set of 125 cast iron steps inside the shaft lead up to the bell. At the top there are four miniature balconies, above which are the four large clock faces, imported from France.
The interiors of the buildings are not readily open to tourists. The facades are pretty, though and make for great photos. This is also a beautiful part of the city, and the views can’t be beat.