Lebanon: wealth through diversity
Lebanon, land where the alphabet was invented, is the oldest democracy in the Middle-East - one of only three - and the home of 18 different communities. Not a rich country in terms of natural resources, it is wealthy in the diversity of its inhabitants.
Traditionally a land of refuge, Lebanon has little by little accumulated this tradition of diversity. In medieval times, when the waves of immigration were tightest, the diversity reached such proportions that according to one contemporary historian, no less than seventy different languages were spoken in the Lebanese mountains, with adjacent villages sometimes requiring translators to understand each other. This tradition of diversity has perpetuated itself to the present day.
Beirut, the capital and largest city of Lebanon, was named the top place to visit in 2009 by The New York Times. Located on a peninsula at the midpoint of Lebanon's coastline with the Mediterranean sea, it serves as the country's largest and main seaport and also forms the Beirut Metropolitan Area, which consists of the city and its suburbs.
Beirut holds Lebanon's seat of government and plays a central role in the Lebanese economy with its Downtown, Hamra, Verdun, and Ashrafieh-based corporate firms and banks. The city is the focal point of the region's cultural life, renowned for its press, theaters, cultural activities, and nightlife. After the destructive Lebanese civil war, Beirut underwent major reconstruction, and the redesigned historic city center, marina, pubs and nightlife districts have once again rendered it a tourist attraction. It was listed as one of the ten liveliest cities in the world by Lonely Planet in 2009.
The once destroyed town center is thriving once again and is very much active. Its former reputation as a crossroads between three continents and gateway to the East has been restored and modernized. Beirut is the often-invoked “Paris of the Orient”, and there is plenty of sightseeing, shopping, cuisine, and nightlife to keep a tourist within the city limits for the duration of their visit to Lebanon. The city has sleek, modern buildings alongside arabesque Oriental buildings, giving Beirut a unique and distinctive style unprecedented in other Middle Eastern cities.
Sidon or Saida is the third-largest city in Lebanon, located in the South Governorate of Lebanon, on the Mediterranean coast, about 40 km north of Tyre and 40 km south of the capital Beirut. Its name means a fishery. It is a city of 200,000 inhabitants, mainly Muslim Sunni, Shiite and Christian.
The Sidon Sea Castle was built by the Crusaders in 1228 A.D. on a small island connected to the mainland by a causeway. A climb to the top leads to the roof where one is taken aback by the view of the port and the old part of the city.After the fall of Acre to the Mamelukes all the sea castles were destroyed to prevent the Crusaders from re-establishing footholds on the coast.
The Sidon Soap Museum traces the history of soap-making in the region, its development and manufacturing techniques. Visitors can see a demonstration of how traditional olive oil soaps are made and learn about the history of the "hammam" (bath) traditions. The Museum building is an old soap factory built in the 17th century, although containing parts thought to date back to the 13th century, and was restored by the Audi Foundation before officially opening to the public in November 2000.
Tyre is a city in the South Governorate of Lebanon. Tyre juts out from the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and is located about 80 km south of Beirut. The name of the city means "rock" after the rocky formation on which the town was originally built. Tyre is an ancient Phoenician city and the legendary birthplace of Europa and Elissa (Dido). Today it is the fourth largest city in Lebanon and houses one of the nation's major ports. Tourism is a major industry. The city has a number of ancient sites, including its Roman Hippodrome which was added to UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites in 1979 (Resolution 459).
Tyre originally consisted of two distinct urban centers, Tyre itself, which was on an island just off shore, and an associated settlement on the adjacent mainland. Alexander the Great connected the island to the mainland coast by constructing a causeway during his siege of the city.
The original island city had two harbors, one on the south side and the other on the north side of the island. It was these two harbors that enabled Tyre to gain the maritime prominence that it did; the harbor on the north side of the island was, in fact, one of the best harbors on the eastern end of the Mediterranean. The harbor on the south side has silted over, but the harbor on the north side is still in use.
Byblos is believed to have been founded around 5000 BC, and according to fragments attributed to the pre-Trojan war Phoenician historian Sanchuniathon, it was built by Cronus as the first city in Phoenicia. Today it is believed by many to be the oldest continuously-inhabited city in the world. It is also considered to be the place where the Phoenician alphabet, the first alphabet, was invented - hence the name Byblos which in Greek means "book".
It is mentioned in the Bible in 1 Kings 5:18, referring to the nationality of the builders of Solomon's Temple, and also in Ezekiel 27:9, referring to the riches of Tyre.
- Ancient Phoenician Temples: In the archaeological site of Byblos there are the remains of the Great Temple (also known as L-Shaped temple) built in 2700 BC, Temple of Baalat Gebal built in 2700 BC and Temple of the Obelisks built around 1600 BC.
- Byblos Castle was built by the crusaders in the 12th century. It is located in the archaeological site near the port.
- Medieval City Wall: The old medieval part of Byblos is surrounded by walls running about 270m from east to west and 200m from north to south.
- Byblos Wax Museum: This museum displays wax statues of characters from Phoenician times to current days.
- St John the Baptist Church: Work on the church started during the crusades in 1150. It was damaged during an earthquake in the 12th century and also during several conflicts.
- Byblos Fossil Museum has a collection of fossilized fish, sharks, eel, flying fish, and other marine life, some millions of years old.
- Historic Quarter and Souks: In the southeast section of the historic city, near the entrance of the archaeological site, is an old market where tourists can shop for souvenirs and antiques, or simply stroll along the old cobblestone streets and enjoy the architecture.
The Jeita Grotto is a compound, two separate but interconnected karstic limestone caves spanning an overall length of nearly 9 kilometers. The caves are situated in the Nahr al-Kalb valley within the locality of Jeita, 18 kilometers north of the Lebanese capital Beirut. Though inhabited in prehistoric times, the lower cave was not rediscovered until 1836 by Reverend William Thomson; it can only be visited by boat since it channels an underground river that provides fresh drinking water to more than a million Lebanese.
In 1958, Lebanese speleologists discovered the upper galleries 60 meters above the lower cave, which have been accommodated with an access tunnel and a series of walkways to enable tourists’ safe access without disturbing the natural landscape. The upper galleries house the world's largest stalactite, and are composed of a series of chambers, the largest of which peaks at a height of 120 meters.
Aside from being a Lebanese national symbol and a top tourist destination, the Jeita grotto plays an important social, economic and cultural role and is a finalist in the New 7 Wonders of Nature competition.
Bsharre is a Lebanese town at 1,650 m altitude, near the Kadisha Valley. It is just under the Cedar forest and is the birthplace of the famous poet, painter and sculptor Khalil Gibran. The museum erected in his honor is situated here.
Bsharre was the site of a Phoenician settlement in ancient times. Maronite Christians fleeing persecution sought refuge in its mountainous terrain in the 7th Century AD. The Kadisha Valley, below the town, became the spiritual center of the Maronite Church. The town was known as Buissera by the Crusaders. Unlike other parts of Lebanon, Aramaic was spoken in Bsharre until well into the 1800s.
Today, the town is located in a highly touristic zone including such attractions as the Gibran Tomb and Museum, Kadisha Valley where Antonios Torbey lived the life of a hermit in the Hermitage of St. Lichaa down in the valley; the Kadisha Grotto, the Cedars of God forest, a ski resort and Bka'kafra (the birthplace of St Charbel).
The city is located 85 km north of the capital, Beirut and can be described as the easternmost port of Lebanon.
In ancient times, it was the center of a Phoenician confederation which included Tyre, Sidon and Arados, hence the name Tripoli, meaning "triple city" in Greek. Tripoli is today the second-largest city and second-largest port in Lebanon, with approximately 500,000 inhabitants. The city borders El Mina, the port of the Tripoli District, which it is geographically conjoined with to form the greater Tripoli conurbation. Just offshore is a string of four small islands, the only islands of Lebanon. The largest, known as the island of Palm trees or Rabbit’s island, is now a nature reserve for green turtles and rare birds. Declared a protected area by UNESCO in 1992, camping, fire building or other depredation is forbidden. This island also holds Roman and Crusader remains.
The Bekaa Valley
Bekaa Valley is a fertile valley in east Lebanon. The Romans considered the Beqaa Valley to be a major agricultural source, and today it remains Lebanon’s most important farming region. However, it hosts tourist and cultural attractions too.
Baalbeck is famous for its exquisitely detailed, yet monumentally scaled temple ruins of the Roman period, when Baalbek, known as Heliopolis was one of the largest sanctuaries in the Empire. It is Lebanon's greatest treasure from antiquity, and it can be counted among the wonders of the ancient world. The largest and most noble Roman-epoch temples ever built, they are also among the best preserved. Thopugh the construction of the temples of Baalbeck was never completed, it is a remarkable feat of engineering. To this day, no man-made edifice has been built using stones as large. A few miles away from the temples lies, still in the quarry, the largest stone hewn by man. It is the size of a small building, and was only dragged a few meters from its orginal emplacement before some unknown event interrupted the construction of the temples. The gods worshiped here were the Triad of Baal, Atargatis, and Adonis. The planning and layout of the temples, as well as the construction techniques, were Phoenician, whereas the decoration was of Roman influence.
Zahle is called the bride of the Bekaa Valley. It is famous for its clean air, its resorts and its food. The city is situated 55 km to the East of the Lebanese capital Beirut. It is the only predominantly Greek Catholic city in the Middle East. Famous for its old churches, outdoor restaurants, unique food and a water powered ice factory in Wadi El Arayesh.