Where to Go in Lebanon
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Once known as the ‘Paris of the East’, Beirut commands a magnificent position, thrust into the Mediterranean. Behind the city are towering mountains, visible when the traffic haze settles down. The Corniche seafront boasts beaches, restaurants, theaters and a dazzling variety of shops and restaurants. Beirut suffered greatly from Lebanon’s 16-year civil war, but following an impressive and ongoing process of reconstruction, the city is once again one of the most popular tourist and business destinations in the Middle East. The so-called ‘Green Line’ which, during the war, divided the city into East and West, has now gone, and two competing centers have grown up several kilometers apart. One is Hamra in West Beirut, where the American University is located along with the majority of hotels. The other is Achrafieh in East Beirut, home to the Université St Joseph and an increasing number of smart shops and expensive restaurants. Beirut’s Central District, known as Solidere (the company in charge of the reconstruction program), is seeing a spectacular number of modern buildings and office blocks springing up everywhere. After massive landfill, two new marinas, a new seaside promenade and a green park are also planned. While many of the new buildings look very modern, Beirut’s old souks (covered markets) are being reconstructed in an authentic way. The Turkish bath at Al-Nouzha provides another glimpse of the old Beirut. The Beirut National Museum, has been rehabilitated and is constantly updating its interesting collection. On the western tip of Beirut, Raouche is an increasingly popular district with a lively seaside promenade. Its famous landmark, the Pigeon Rocks, are huge formations standing like sentinels off the coast.
Around 20km (13 miles) north of Beirut, the spectacular Jeita caverns are a popular tourist attraction. The caverns are on two levels, and the lower gallery includes an underground waterway which can be visited by boat (but may be closed during winter).
The country’s second city, Tripoli is Lebanon’s most Arabian city and retains much of its provincial charm. Its history dates back to the eighth century BC, and the town center, though surrounded by modern housing developments and beach resorts, has preserved its character. There are two parts – the port area and the city proper – which are divided by acres of fragrant orange plantations. Tripoli’s old medieval center at the foot of the Crusader castle has a number of interesting mosques, including the Al-Muallaq Burtasiyat Madrassa, Al-Qartâwiyat Madrassa, Great Mosque and Taynâl. The old souks (covered markets) provide interesting shopping. Tripoli is famous for its sweets and traditional olive oil-based soap. The port area, known as Al Mina, has numerous seafood restaurants and fish markets; most hotels can be found in the modern beach resorts along the coast.
Just off Tripoli, numerous small islands can be visited, the largest of which, the Island of Palm Trees, has been listed by UNESCO as a nature reserve for green turtles and rare birds.
Tyre was founded at the start of the third millennium BC and still bears impressive traces of its ancient origins today. Tyre’s archaeological sites are divided into three areas: area one is located on what was the Phoenician Island and contains ruins of the large district of civic buildings, public baths and mosaic streets; area two contains an extensive network of Romano-Byzantine roads and other installations; area three is most notable for containing one of the largest Roman hippodromes ever found.
Byblos is reputed to be the oldest town in the world, with excavations unearthing artifacts dating back to Neolithic times as well as from Canaanite, Phoenician, Hellenistic, Roman and Crusader periods. Fishing boats and pleasure craft ply the old harbor. Today, Byblos is a thriving modern town, with the old town center being the most interesting part for the visitor to explore.
A small port city between Beirut and Tyre, Sidon has a sea castle built of stone from Roman remains and it offers well-stocked markets.
Beiteddine, in the Chouf Mountains, is the site of the palace built by the Amir Basheer in the 19th century. The courtyard and state rooms are well worth a visit. Near the Syrian border, Baalbek contains one of the best-preserved temple areas of the Roman world still in existence. It is, in fact, a complex of several temples behind which soar the columns of the Temple of Jupiter.
Besharre, to the northwest, is best known as the birthplace of the famous Lebanese poet Khalil Gibran, author of The Prophet, and there is a Gibran museum. The town is also a gateway to the mountainous region, famous for its many cedar trees.
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