Area: 10,452 square kilometres
Population: approx. 4.2 million
Currency: Lebanese Pound (LBP)
Lebanon, the ancient Phoenicia, is small in size but rich in diversity. The country's multi-cultural history has given it a huge variety of cultural treasures and monuments. The captivating beauty of the Lebanese landscape leaves lasting impressions on the traveller's mind. Travel through deep gorges to visit picturesque red-roofed villages perched high on the mountain edges... or make a fascinating journey through history, as you visit ancient sites along the beautiful Mediterranean coast.
Getting to and from Lebanon:
Beirut-Rafic Hariri International Airport (BEY) is located 9 km south of the Lebanese capital. The airport is the hub for the national carrier Middle East Airlines, as well as the charter carriers Wings of Lebanon and Med Airways, and the cargo carrier, Trans Mediterranean Airways..
Terminals: One terminal.
Getting to & from Beirut: There is no public transportation service between the airport and downtown Beirut. Car rental and taxi services are available.
|Charles Helou bus station east of downtown Beirut is the main bus station, serving destinations north of Beirut (Jounieh, Byblos and Tripoli) and Syria. Buses to the south leave from "Cola", a bus hub located at an intersection that also goes under the name of Mazraa.|
Where to Stay:
There are hotels in Lebanon for every type of budget, from five-star luxury hotels to budget accommodation.
Some of the top-of-the-line 5-star hotels in Beirut include:
|Road distances in Lebanon|
|From Beirut to:|
|Anjar:||59 km||Jounieh:||21 km|
|Baalbeck:||86 km||Saida:||43 km|
|Bcharre:||112 km||Sour:||90 km|
|Beiteddine:||41 km||Tripoli:||84 km|
Beirut, with a population exceeding 2 million, is the capital of Lebanon and the country's largest city. It is also Lebanon's cultural, financial and commercial centre, and its largest sea port.
Beirut has been called "Paris of the Middle East". The city's blend of East and West, has given it a special character of openness and dynamism. This is a city to be experienced through all the senses. The attraction of Beirut is not mainly in museums or ancient sites, but in its very own atmosphere of intriguing diversity. This is a vibrant city, full of life and energy, and its traffic scene is simply "overwhelming".
Beirut traces its history back more than 5000 years. The city began to grow in importance during Roman times, when it became an important port and cultural centre, famous for its law school.
Beirut came under Arab control in 635. Later, the Crusaders held the city for almost 200 years. Towards the end of the 19th century, Beirut started becoming a cosmopolitan city. The city became a centre for education, commerce, fashion and the media. Beirut became a hub for Arab intellectual activity.
The civil war that ravaged Lebanon from 1975 to 1990, put an abrupt end to Beirut's glamour. This brutal war, which killed an estimated 150,000 people, devastated many parts of the city. After the war, the central parts of Beirut were rebuilt.
A good place from which to start experiencing Beirut is the Corniche. This is a long seaside promenade, starting at Saint George Bay in the north. Travelling west, the Corniche passes by the lighthouse of Ras Beirut, located at the the westernmost tip of the Beirut promontory. Turning south from Ras Beirut, the Corniche ends in the Raouche area, famous for its landmark Pigeon Rocks, a spectacular group of rock formations, just off the shore. The Corniche is where Beirutis of all walks of life come for exercising, walking, talking, eating, discussing... you name it!
From Raouche, take a walk down the legendary Hamra Street, once called "The Champs Elysees" of Beirut. This street offers good opportunities for shopping at reasonable prices. Continuing down Hamra takes you to downtown Beirut.
The downtown area was badly damaged during the civil war, but has now been largely restored. Nejmeh Square, with its famous clocktower, and the nearby Martyrs' Square, are central landmarks in this part of the city. Places to visit include Al-Omari Mosque, which was originally a cathedral built by the Crusaders in the early 12th century. The building was transformed into a Grand Mosque by the Mamelukes, in 1291 AD. Among other interesting buildings in the old town are The Saint George Orthodox Cathedral, originally built in 1767, and The Maronite Cathedral of St. George, which was totally restored in 2000. Behind Bank Street are The Roman Baths, which were discovered as late as 1968. Like in many other parts of Beirut, the old town has its fair share of restaurants and cafes. Maybe you could try a narghileh (water pipe) at one of the outdoor cafes.
Southeast of Martyrs' Square, down Damascus Road, is The National Museum. This showcases Middle Eastern antiquities dating from pre-historic times to the Mameluk era.
East of Martyrs' Square, in Achrafieh, is the Sursock Museum, which has displays of contemporary Lebanese art.
North of Beirut
Some 20 km north of Beirut, in the Nahr Al Kalb valley, the Jeita Grottoes are one of Lebanon's most spectacular attractions. The grottoes consist of two caves with natural stalactite, stalagmite and rock formations. The upper cave covers a length of more than 2000 metres, of which 750 metres are accessible to visitors. This gallery can be visited on foot. It consists of three massive chambers, lit by a sophisticated lighting system that accentuates the dramatic shapes of the rock formations.
The lower cave, 60 metres below the upper one, features a lake("The Dark Lake") and an underwater river, which is partly broken up by rapids. The lower cave includes several halls with impressive formations.
37 km north of Beirut, on the Mediterranean coast, is the town of Jbeil. Also known by its Greek name, "Byblos", this town is by many considered to be the oldest continuously-habitated city in the world (Jericho in Palestine is another contender for this title). The history of Byblos appears to be going back to around 5000 BC. In Phoenician times, the city's name was Gebal. The Greeks named it "Byblos" (papyrus) because of its importance in the papyrus trade.
Apart from the charm of modern Byblos, the main attraction in Byblos is the archaeological area, located south of the harbour. Access to this walled area is via the Crusader Castle. Built by the Franks in the 12th century, this castle is a dominating landmark of Byblos. It was originally surrounded by a moat, which was later drained, during Ottoman times. The City Ramparts, consisting of walls built deep into the ground, were constructed to thwart any attacks. The Temple of Baalat Gebal, dates back to the 4th century BC. It is the oldest temple of Byblos. Dedicated to the Phoenician god Baal, this temple was rebuilt several times in history. The Roman Colonnade, consisting of Corinthian marble columns, is a remnant of the Roman era in Byblos. Near the colonnade is The Phoenician Royal Necropolis, with 9 royal tombs. Among them is the sarcophagus of the Phoenician King Hiram. The Roman Amphitheatre is a reconstruction of the original theatre. Overlooking the Mediterranean, the amphitheatre is often used for performances.
Byblos was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1984.
Another attraction not to be missed in Byblos is the Wax Museum. Located near the castle, this museum displays scenes and personalities from Lebanon's long history.
Qadisha Valley & The Cedars
The Qadisha Valley (“Holy Valley”) stretches some 50 km from around the area of Batroun on the Mediterranean coast, up to the mountain town of Bcharre. Travelling on the winding roads through the valley provides some of the most spectacular scenery in Lebanon, with peaks and gorges, monasteries and tombs, waterfalls and caves.
Perched above the eastern edge of the Qadisha Valley, is the picturesque, red-roofed town of Bcharre. This is the birthplace of the famous writer, poet and artist Gibran Khalil Gibran (1883-1931). The Monastery of Mar Sarkis, houses the Gibran Museum, with displays of the author’s paintings, drawings and manuscripts.
A few kilometers away from Bcharre is the resort of Arz-el-Rab (“The Cedars of The Lord”). Just at the outskirts of the resort is a fenced-in grove (there is an entrance fee) with some remains of the massive cedars forests that grew across Mount Lebanon in ancient times. Many of the trees are said to be more than a 1000 years old. The cedar tree has always been the national emblem of Lebanon, and it is featured on the country’s national flag.
Arz Al Rab and the Qadisha Valley were added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1998.
The Cedars remains a popular resort all year round, although the peak is during the winter season, stretching from December to April. A large variety of slopes with nine different ski runs make the area a paradise for skiers. Hotels, chalets and restaurants cater for the visitors.
Tripoli is Lebanon's second largest city, located 85 km north of Beirut. The history of Tripoli dates back as early as 1400 BC. During the course of history, the city has been ruled by many, including Phoenicians, Persians, Greeks, Romans & Byzantines. Under Arab rule, Tripoli became the second most important port in the Mediterranean, after Alexandria. In 1289, the city was captured by the Mamluk Sultan Qalawoon.
Tripoli has a very rich cultural heritage, and 45 buildings are officially registered as historical sites. Tripoli is the second largest Mameluke heritage city in the world. Touring the old town of Tripoli, gives fascinating insights into the its Mameluke history.
Examples of the Mameluke architecture are the khans (caravanserais), which were inns built to accommodate travellers. The inside walls of the khan used to be outfitted with stalls to accommodate merchants, their animals and merchandise.
Khan Al Khayyatin (The Tailors’ Khan), was built in 1341. This khan has a long passageway with tall arches and vaults, opening up to the sky in the middle. Stalls and shops sell dry goods and coffee.
Khan Al Saboun (The Soap Khan), was built in the early 17th century by theYusuf Saifi, the pasha of Tripoli. It was originally built to serve as military barracks for Ottoman troops. After Tripoli later fell to prince Fakhreddine II, the barracks gradually fell into disuse. Eventually, the inhabitants of Tripoli petitioned Fakhreddine to have the khan turned into a soap factory. Since those days, the Soap Khan produces the traditional Tripoli natural soap, made from olive oil, blended with lime and water.
Khan Al Misriyyin (The Egyptians' Khan), is a traditional arcaded khan, featuring two storeys and an open courtyard with a central fountain.
Al Mansouri Mosque/The Great Mosque, located in the heart of the Old City, was built in 1294. The mosque was commissioned by the Mamluke ruler Al Mansour Qalawoon after he liberated Tripoli from the Crusaders.
Taynal Mosque, was commissioned in 1336 by the Mameluke prince Saifuddin Taynal. This is by many considered the most magnificent example of Mameluke mosque architecture in Tripoli.
Madrasah Al Nourieh, commissioned in the early 8th century by prince Sunqur Bin Abdallah Al Nouri, is one of a large number of theological schools from Tripoli's Mameluke era. This madrasah is an exquisite example of Mameluke architecture. The premises are still used for Islamic education.
The Citadel of Raymond de Saint Gilles/Qal’at Sanjil. This vast Citadel, which dominates the city of Tripoli, was built in the early 12th century by Raymond de Saint-Gilles, one of the leaders of the First Crusade. The Citadel was expanded under the Mamelukes. After burning down on several occasions, the Citadel was rebuilt in 1307. It has subsequently been added to, and of the original construction, only the foundation stones remain.
Al Hammam Al Jadid, is the largest Turkish bath in Tripoli, covering an area of 600 square metres. Its was built in the early 18th century by the Ottoman governor Ibrahim Pasha Al Azem. This hammam is no longer in use.
Hammam Al Abed, is the only Turkish bath in use in Tripoli today. It dates back to the late 17th century, and is located in the Roummaneh district. The well decorated traditional interior of the bath makes it definitely worth a visit.
The traditional souks are all located in the same area. There are nine different souks, divided according to specializations. They are all interconnected and laid out like a maze. A visit to the souks is a great opportunity to literally lose yourself in a genuinely exotic shopping experience.
The Beqaa Valley
The Beqaa Valley is a fertile valley and farming region, situated between Mount Lebanon to the west, and the mountains of Anti-Lebanon to the east. This valley is home to one of Lebanon’s major attractions – the ancient city of Baalbeck.
The Phoenicians settled in Baalbeck as early as 2000 BC. The city got its name from the Sun God “Baal”, to whom the Phoenicians dedicated the city’s first temple. During Roman times, Baalbeck was known as “Heliopolis”. During this era, the greatest of the three temples in the city was a sanctuary dedicated to Jupiter-Baal.
There are three main monuments at the temple complex of Baalbeck. The first sight to meet the visitor is the impressive Jupiter’s Temple. This massive edifice measures 88 by 44 metres. Built on a high podium, its six remaining Corinthian columns tower 22 metres into the sky. The temple is reached via a monumental entrance (Propylea), via a hexagonal forecourt, leading to the Great Court in front of the temple.
Next to the Jupiter complex is the Temple of Bacchus, built under the Roman emperor Antoninus Pius around 150 AD. This temple is the best preserved among the three main temples of Baalbeck. The smallest of the three temples, The Temple of Venus, was built in the 3rd century AD.
Near the temple complex are the remnants of the Great Umayyad Mosque. Constructed some time in the late 7th or early 8th century, the mosque was built using materials from the Baalbeck temple site.
Baalbeck is home to the Baalbeck International Festival, held annually in July and August. The festival features classical and modern music, in addition to theatre, opera and dance.
Baalbeck was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1984.
The town of Anjar is on the Beirut-Damascus highway, not far from the Syrian border. This town, which has a majority Armenian population, is home to a historic site different from most other sites in Lebanon. This is because the site of Anjar represents only one limited period in history, namely the Umayyad era. The Umayyad caliphate ruled from Damascus between 660 and 750. It was the Umayyads that built an Islamic empire stretching from India to southern France. Historic documents indicate that Anjar was probably built from 705 to 715, during the reign of the caliph Walid I.
The town was basically rectangular in shape, surrounded on all sides by protective walls. Each wall had an entrance with watchtowers. Two perpendicular main streets cut through the city, one from east to west, and the other from north to south. This divided the city into four blocks, containing palaces, mosques, baths, residential buildings, etc.
The Great Palace is the best preserved of the ruins at Anjar. There are also remnants of the mosque, the thermal baths, souks (markets) and two smaller palaces.
Anjar was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1984.
Enjoy these panoramic views of Anjar.
South of Beirut
Beiteddine & Deir El Qamar
The magnificent palace complex of Beiteddine, was built by Emir Bechir Chehab II, who governed Mount Lebanon from 1788 to 1840. Construction on the palace began in 1812. The Emir was forced into exile in 1840, first in Malta, and later in Istanbul, where he died. In 1943, the year of Lebanon's independence, Beiteddine became the summer residence of the president Bechara El-Khoury.
The palace contains an outer section, middle section, harems (private apartments), hammams (baths) and stables. With its splendid architecture, beautifully decorated ceilings, brilliant mosaic floors and grand Turkish baths, Beiteddine has become one of Lebanon's main tourist attractions.
The Beiteddine Festival is held annually in July and August. The festival features classical and modern music, in addition to theatre, opera and dance.
5 km west of Beiteddine is the scenic town of Deir El Qamar. With its many historic buildings among narrow streets and winding alleys, Deir El Qamar is indeed something of an open-air museum.
Shortly after coming to power in 1590, Emir Fakhreddine Maan II, moved his capital to Deir El Qamar, where he ruled until his death in 1635. Towards the end of the 17th century, the emirs of the Chehab family took over the land, which corresponded to today's Lebanon. Emir Bechir Chehab II, the Emir of Beiteddine, lived in Deir El Qamar before he decided to move his capital to Beiteddine.
Among the most prominent historical buildings in Deir El Qamar are The Mosque of Fakhreddine I, built in 1493. The Palace of Emir Younus Maan (the brother of Emir Fakhreddine), The Emir Youssef Chehab Seraglio, The Palace of Emir Ahmed Chehab, The Seraglio of Emir Fakhreddine II and The Palace of Nicolas El Turk.
Located 43 km south of Beirut, Saida is the 3rd largest city of Lebanon. The city has been inhabited since 4000 BC. Saida used to be one of the most important Phoenician cities. Today, the city remains a busy commercial centre with a population of more than 200,000.
The Sea Castle, built in the 13th century by the Crusading Knights of St John, is built on a small island accessible by a causeway.
The Soap Museum, features the history of soap making in the region. The museum is inside an old soap factory built in the 17th century. Exhibits explain the making of traditional olive oil soaps.
The 17th century “Khan el Franj” (the Foreigners’ Caravanserai) was built to house merchants and goods.
The Castle of St Louis, south of the old souk, was built by Crusaders in the 13th century.
About 80 km south of Beirut is Sour, also known by its historic name Tyre. Built on a promontory jutting out into the Mediterranean, Sour is Lebanon's fourth largest city, and a major port.
Tyre's history goes back to around 2750 BC. Excavations in the city have uncovered remains from the Greco-Roman, Byzantine and Crusader eras. Tyre was the most important of the Phoenician cities. It ruled the waves of the Mediterranean and founded colonies such as Carthage and Cadiz. As a result, Tyre amassed great wealth and gained power and influence.
Sour offers an array of archaeological treasures, among which the Roman remains are the most impressive. There are basically three different archaeological sites.
The City Site, located south of the old town of Sour, contains buildings, colonnades, public baths and mosaic pavements. There are also columns belonging to a Palaestra, an area where athletes trained. Other excavated remains on this site date to the Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine periods.
Opposite the City Site, on the other side of Awqaf Road, is another with one major point of interest; a Crusader cathedral. Not much remains of the cathedral, and the site is closed to visitors, but can be viewed from the road.
About a kilometre to the east of the City Site is the Al-Bass Site. This houses a large necropolis, a monumental arch and a hippodrome that seated an estimated 20,000 spectators. The excavations on this site date from the 2nd to the 6th century AD. The necropolis contains large numbers of Roman and Byzantine sarcophagi made from stone and marble. The monumental arch stands astride a road that led into the ancient city.
Tyre was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1984.