Visiting Lebanon

 Recently, after the long years of the civil war and reoccurring periods of political unrest in Lebanon, Lebanon has become an increasingly popular destination for tourism.

Its rich history, historic sites, mild climate, along with other factors, have all made Lebanon currently one of the most visited countries in the Middle East.

Culture

An interesting archaeological relic found throughout Lebanon is the hundreds of well-preserved mosaics from the Roman and Byzantine eras. Countless colorful, tiny stones form intricate images of mythological figures, religious deities, and geometric designs. The mosaic is symbolic of modern-day Lebanon, which is a country characterized by a diversity of cultures, traditions, and religions interwoven through time. It is this unique diversity which fascinates travellers.

Its position as a meeting point for diverse peoples is evident in the extraordinary richness of its archaeological sites and historical monuments. From Stone Age settlements to Phoenician city-states, from Roman temples to rock-cut Christian hermitages, from Crusader Castles to Mamluke mosques and Ottoman hammams, the country’s historical sites are a true encyclopedia of ancient and modern world history.

Modern Lebanese society is characterized by this same cultural diversity. Most Lebanese people speak Arabic, English, and French. As you walk the streets of downtown Beirut, you will pass domed mosques and steepled churches, reflecting the country’s religious and architectural legacies – Sunni, Shiia, and Druze Muslims; Maronite, Eastern Orthodox, and other Christians; and many others. Regionally, each part of the countryside has its own local flavor, with different villages preserving a different culinary, artistic, religious, or cultural traditions.

A visit to any of Lebanon’s ancient archaeological ruins, traditional villages, or religious sites will truly give you a taste of the cultural mosaic of this captivating country.

Every visitor to Lebanon has heard that this is the only country in the world where one can ski on snow in the morning and swim in the waters of the Mediterranean in the afternoon. This is due to a moderate climate and to the fact that Lebanese mountains rise up above a very narrow coast. Even the highest resorts are only a short drive from the coast, which offers on a clear day some breathtaking views.

Weather and Climate

Lebanon is blessed with a mild Mediterranean climate and four distinct seasons. Summer (June to September) is made for sun worshippers and water enthusiasts, with temperatures along the coast ranging from 20-32°C (68-90°F). Clear skies and little rain are perfect for outdoor cafés and seaside fun. Alternatively, head to the mountains for nice walks and cooler weather, typically 6-22°C (45-70°F). Summer is the season for sampling mouth-watering cherries and vineyard grapes in the Békaa Valley.

Fall (October-November) brings crisp, cool weather to the mountains, 5-20°C (40-68°F), while remaining pleasantly warm on the coast and in the South, 15-28°C (60-85°F). Fall is a good time for apple picking in the North and viewing the harvesting of olives and machinations of olive presses all over the country.

Winter (December to mid-March) is the time for outdoor sports, with six ski resorts catering to skiers and snowboarders of all skill levels, and kilometers of cross-country skiing and snowshoe trails to be explored. Because winter is the rainy season, the mountains get considerable snowfall. Temperatures fall to below 0°C at night and range from -5°C-5°C (25-40°F) during the day. The coast is wet and cool, with temperatures ranging from 10-20°C (50-67°F).

Fall and winter can be the ideal time to visit Lebanon’s historical attractions and ruins while avoiding crowds and hot weather. On a fresh, crisp day you might find yourself as the sole visitor amidst the majestic ruins of Sour (Tyre) or Baalbek, feeling almost transported to the ancient days of the Phoenicians or Romans.

Lebanon warms again in the Spring(April-May). As a result of the winter rain and the melting snow, the scenery comes alive with wildflowers, making spring the prime opportunity for hiking Lebanon’s mountain trails and discovering its unique flora and fauna. Temperatures range from 0-15°C (32-60°F) in the mountains to 15-25°C (58-72°F) along the coast.

Below is a list of attractive touristic sites in Lebanon, click on the desired tab for detailed information.
Anjar

Most notable for its graceful stone arches and wide arcades, the ruins of Aanjar offer visitors a unique opportunity to step foot upon an ancient Islamic trading hub connecting Damascus to the Mediterranean Sea. Situated at the southern end of the Békaa Valley, Aanjar is among the world’s few known ruins of the 8th century Umayyad dynasty and is one of the region’s only examples of an inland commercial center.

At only 1,300 years old, Aanjar is one of Lebanon’s newer archaeological sites. The ruins were discovered by accident relatively recently (in 1949).

The Umayyad Dynasty, which flourished for 100 years (660-750 A.D.) in the first century after Muhammed, was the first of two dynasties of the Arab Islamic empire. The Umayyad caliphs were notable for establishing a large empire, which extended from Spain, through North Africa, to Central Asia. They established Arabic as the official language of the empire, and they are remembered in the pages of history for their excellent city administration and planning and their patronage of early Islamic art and architecture.

Thought to be the summer home of Caliph Walid I, Aanjar survived only a few decades before the Umayyads were defeated by their rivals, the Abbasids (who founded the second Arab Islamic dynasty). Aanjar later fell into disrepair and was abandoned.

The city of Aanjar was a major trading and commercial center for the entire region. It was built at a strategic location on the main caravan routes between the inland Umayyad capital of Damascus (Syria) and the coast, close to the abundant spring of Aain Gerrha and near the rich agricultural land of the Békaa. Visitors can still see the remains of over 600 small shops, running along colonnaded boulevards – the ancient equivalent of a modern-day shopping arcade.

The city’s wide avenues are also lined with mosques, palaces, baths, storehouses, and residences. The city ruins cover 114,000 square meters and are surrounded by large, fortified stone walls, over two meters thick and seven meters high. The rectangular city design is based on Roman city planning and architecture, with stonework and other features borrowed from the Byzantines. Two large avenues – the 20-meter-wide Cardo Maximus, running north to south, and the Decumanus Maximus, running east to west – divide the city into four quadrants. At the crossroads in the center of the city, four great tetrapylons mark the four corners of the intersection.

As you walk through the ruins of this stone city, marvel at the beautiful stone archways of the city’s palace facades… Explore the elaborate Roman-style baths… Duck inside the small residential quarters of the city residents… Search for intricate Greco-Roman-style stone carvings or Umayyad-era graffiti on the stone walls… And imagine yourself transported to this short period in history when the Umayyad caliphs ruled the region and the city bustled with traders en route to the four corners of the globe!

Baalbeck

Baalbek’s awe-inspiring temples and city ruins are among the largest and finest examples of Roman architecture in the world. Visitors can easily spend several hours, or an entire day, exploring the wonders of this ancient city – from the grandeur of the columned temples to the intricately carved stonework, and the sheer size of the stones used to construct the temples. Like many archaeologists and historians, you will be amazed at the ancient feats of engineering required to build these magnificent stone monuments.

Located in the fertile Békaa Valley, the city of Baalbek originated in Phoenician times as a place of worship to Baal, the Phoenician Sun God. During the Hellenistic period (333-64 B.C.), the Greeks named the city Heliopolis, or “City of the Sun.” However, Baalbek entered its golden age in 47 B.C., when Julius Caesar made it a Roman colony.

Perhaps because of the area’s agricultural importance in feeding the eastern inhabitants of the Roman Empire – or perhaps because of its strategic location along the major east-west and north-south trading routes – the Romans selected this site to construct the largest religious temples in their empire. Over a span of 200 years (60 B.C.-150 A.D.), a succession of Roman emperors oversaw the construction of the magnificent temples to honor the divine Roman trinity: Jupiter, Venus, and Mercury. These temples also served as a monument to the wealth and power of Imperial Rome.

Modern-day visitors to Baalbek can enter the site through the majestic Roman propylaea (ceremonial entrance) and walk through the two large colonnaded courtyards to reach the complex’s great temples:

The Temple of Jupiter was the largest Roman temple ever constructed. Today, just six of the original 54 Corinthian columns remain standing. Each column is 22 meters (66 feet) high and 2 meters (7.5 feet) in diameter, hinting at the temple’s enormous size in the time of the Roman Empire .

The Temple of Bacchus is the best-preserved Roman temple in the Middle East. Although smaller than the Temple of Jupiter, the Temple of Bacchus is still larger than the Parthenon in Athens. The dedication and purpose of this temple, and its relationship to the rest of the temple complex, remain a mystery.

The Temple of Venus is a smaller, domed structure set apart to the southeast of the complex. During the Byzantine period, the temple was converted into a church honoring Saint Barbara. Only part of the staircase from the Temple of Mercury can still be seen on Sheikh Abdallah hill, a short distance away from the main temple site.

Although the temples were closed and partially destroyed when the region was Christianized, the city of Baalbek lived on as other civilizations left their mark at the site. Byzantine Emperor Theodosius tore down the altars of the Temple of Jupiter and built a basilica using the temple’s stones and architectural elements. The remains of this basilica can still be seen near the stairway of the Temple of Jupiter. During the Arab conquests, the temple ruins were fortified, and the area was given the Arab name Qalaa, meaning “fortress.” Remains of a great mosque, dating from the 8th century Umayyad period, can be seen in front of the acropolis entrance.

Much of Baalbek was later destroyed by earthquakes. However, in the 19th century, a German mission began to excavate and reconstruct the Baalbek ruins. Thanks to the efforts of German, French, and Lebanese archaeologists, visitors can now have a glimpse of what the site looked like in its original grandeur. Baalbek is truly a wonder of the ancient world and should not be missed by any visitor to Lebanon.

Batroun

A charming and friendly city located on the Mediterranean coast 50km north of Beirut, Batroun is famous for its Phoenician wall, old souk, and wonderful fresh lemonade. In recent years, it has become the entertainment hub of the North.

The city sits in a triangular shaped plain crossed by the river Nahr el-Jawz. It is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the west, the foothills of Mount Lebanon to the south and east, and the Ras ech-Chaqa’a plateau to the north. Just northeast of Batroun is the imposing Mussaylha Fort, constructed by Fakhr ed-Dine II high on a strategic limestone rock.

Batroun’s location as a gateway to the North makes it an ideal jumping-off point for exploring all that North Lebanon has to offer. The surrounding area has a wealth of historical and cultural sites, including the Phoenician wall and newly-restored souks in Batroun itself; the 17th century Mussaylha Fort; the famous Basbous family sculpture exhibition in nearby Rachana village; and many interesting churches and ruins sites in villages such as Koubba, Kfar Aabida, and Hamat. For those who love the sun, sand, and sea, there are many well-equipped beach resorts stretching along the coast north and south of the city, as well as a variety of restaurants and nightclubs catering to all tastes. Driving inland from Batroun, you will reach the beautiful, rugged mountains around Tannourine, Douma, and Laqlouq, as well as the Tannourine Cedars Forest Nature Reserve, which offers opportunities for hiking and natural exploration.

Byblos

Jbail (Byblos): Ancient Crossroads of the Mediterranean

Jbail (Byblos) is a true microcosm of the civilizations that have populated Lebanon over the centuries. Believed to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, the modern port city of Jbail (Byblos) is built upon multiple layers of ruins, dating back to as early as the Stone Age and extending to the more recent Ottoman days. A visit to Jbail (Byblos) is a chance to walk through the annals of Lebanese history and experience firsthand the diverse cultures that have made this area a mosaic of civilizations. Jbail (Byblos) is not simply a picturesque seaside town, but has a history that has been closely tied to the Mediterranean for millennia.

Historians believe that the site of Jbail (Byblos) dates back at least 7,000 years (beginning around 5,000-4,000 B.C.), when a small Neolithic fishing community settled along the shore of the Mediterranean. From that period onward, new settlers brought new ways of life and new customs, leaving a variety of artifacts and the remnants of houses and buildings that trace the city’s ancient history. Today’s visitors can see the remains of several Stone Age huts with crushed limestone floors, the foundations of Chalcolithic houses (4,500-3,500 B.C.), the vestiges of an Early Bronze Age residence, and the remains of ancient defensive ramparts and temples.

By around 3,000 B.C., Jbail (Byblos) was inhabited by Canaanites, or Phoenicians, and became the first Phoenician city to trade actively with the Egyptian Old Kingdom. Jbail (Byblos) developed into the most important commercial center in the eastern Mediterranean, trading cedar wood, olive oil, and wine for gold, alabaster, papyrus, and other goods from the Egyptian pharaohs. In the royal necropolis at Jbail (Byblos) can be found the nine underground tombs of the Jbail (Byblos) kings.

Perhaps the Phoenicians’ most impressive contribution to the world is the development of the first alphabetic phonetic script, the precursor of the modern-day alphabet. It is believed that scholars of Jbail (Byblos) developed the Phoenician alphabet. The oldest evidence of the Phoenician alphabet discovered to date is the inscription on the sarcophagus of King Ahiram of Jbail (Byblos) (10th century B.C.), which is now on display at the National Museum in Beirut.

Following the conquest by Alexander the Great, Jbail (Byblos) fell under Greek rule and adopted the Greek language and culture. The Greeks gave the city its name of Jbail (Byblos), which means “papyrus” or “paper.” The city was an important center for trading papyrus, on which many religious texts, public documents, private letters, astronomical, and mathematical texts were written. In the first century B.C., the Romans took Jbail (Byblos), and constructed large temples, baths, and other buildings. Artifacts of the Roman era include the remains of a Roman theater (218 A.D.), columns lining the ancient colonnaded street, and a Roman nympheum (a monumental public fountain). Roman rule in Jbail (Byblos) was followed by Byzantine rule (399-636 A.D.) and then Arab rule (636-1104 A.D.).There are few archaeological remains of these periods.

In 1104, Jbail (Byblos) was conquered by the Crusaders, who used the large Roman stones and columns to construct their own castle and a moat. This castle was later reused and renovated by the Mamlukes (13th-16th centuries A.D.) and the Ottomans (16th-20th centuries A.D.). Today, the 12th century Crusader castle towers over the Jbail (Byblos) ruins, and climbing to the top of the castle is an excellent vantage point for taking in a panoramic view of the ruins and the Mediterranean Sea.

Before Jbail (Byblos) was excavated in the late-19th and early-20th centuries, these layers of ruins were buried in earth, forming a mound nearly 12 meters high, and covered with houses and gardens. Over the last century, historians have excavated the site, digging through each layer of stone and earth to uncover a unique period of history in this port city.

Modern visitors to Jbail (Byblos) can undertake their own historical excavation here, exploring the layers of ruins and artifacts to unearth the ancient civilizations of Lebanon.

Beiteddine

The Beiteddine palace complex, Lebanon’s best example of early 19th century Lebanese architecture, was built over a thirty year period by Emir Bechir Chehab II, who ruled Mount Lebanon for more than half a century.

The road to Beiteddine leaves the coastal highway 17 kilometers beyond Beirut, just a few kilometers after the town of Damour. From there the road climbs quickly along the beautiful Damour river valley for 26 kilometers to an elevation of 850 meters at Beiteddine. The most spectacular view of the palace and its surroundings is from the village of Deir El-Qamar (“Monastery of the Moon”), five kilometers before Beiteddine.

Sidon

Saida (Sidon), on the coast 45 kilometers south of Beirut, is one of the famous names in ancient history. Of all of Lebanon’s cities, this is the most mysterious, for its past has been tragically scattered and plundered. In the 19th century, treasure hunters and amateur archaeologists made off with many of its most beautiful and important objects, some of which can now be seen in foreign museums.

In this century too, ancient objects from Saida (Sidon) (Sidoon is the Phoenician name) have turned up on the world’s antiquities markets. Other traces of its history lie beneath the concrete of modern constructions, perhaps buried forever. The challenge for today’s visitor to Saida (Sidon) is to recapture a sense of this city’s ancient glory from the intriguing elements that still survive.

The largest city in south Lebanon, Saida (Sidon) is a busy commercial center with the pleasant, conservative atmosphere of a small town. Since Persian times Saida (Sidon) was known as the city of gardens, and even today it is surrounded by citrus and banana plantations.

Tyre

Phoenician Sour (Tyre) was queen of the seas, an island city of unprecedented splendor. She grew wealthy from her far-reaching colonies and her industries of purple-dyed textiles. But she also attracted the attention of jealous conquerors, among them the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar and Alexander the Great.

There are two major archaeological sites in the town that can be seen today. The Al-Bass Site consists of an extensive necropolis, a three bay monumental arch, and one of the largest hippodromes ever found. All date from the 2nd century A.D to the 6th century A.D. The City Site, located on what was originally the Phoenician island city, is a vast district of civic buildings, colonnades, public baths, mosaics, streets, and a rectangular arena.

Zahle

Zahleh is a modern and vibrant Lebanese city founded in the early 1700s in an area with archeological evidence of human activity dating back at least 5,000 years. Situated in the heart of Lebanon nearly equidistant between the borders – North to South and East to West – it is 54 kilometers east of the capital Beirut.

Qadisha Valley

Qadisha, one of the deepest and most beautiful valleys in Lebanon, is indeed a world apart. At the bottom of this wild, steep-sided gorge runs the Qadisha River, whose source is in the Qadisha Grotto at the foot of the Cedars. Above the valley and famous Cedar grove towers Qornet Es-Saouda, Lebanon’s highest peak.

Tripoli

 

Tripoli (Trablous), 85 kilometers north of Beirut, has a special character of its own. Thanks to its historical wealth, relaxed lifestyle, and thriving business climate, this is a city where modern and medieval blend easily into a lively and hospitable metropolis. Known as the capital of the North, Tripoli is Lebanon’s second largest city.