Geography of Lebanon and Places of Interest Around Beirut
Geography of Lebanon and Places of Interest Around Beirut Last updated on Thursday 22nd April 2010
Behind the narrow coastal lowlands are the Lebanon Mountains, which occupy about 33% of the country's surface. Across the mountains is the fertile Bekkaa Valley, beyond which lies the Anti-Lebanon Mountains, bordering Syria. Lebanon’s summers are hot, dry and more humid on the coast. Winters are short and mild. The capital, Beirut, lies on the coast; until the eruption of the civil war in 1975, Beirut was one of the most vibrant and prosperous cities in the region. It was a distinctive centre for trade, banking and leisure. Almost fifteen years of fighting and destruction left the city in ruins, but since the situation settled and the process of getting things back to normal began in the early 1990’s, rebuilding has begun in the hopes that Beirut can once again be called the 'Paris of the Middle East'. Byblos, north of Beirut, is one of the world’s oldest, continuously inhabited cities. Excavations have proven that people were living there 7,000 years ago.
The Sursock Quarter has some of the loveliest old homes left in Beirut, as well as the Sursock Art Museum (pictured).
The National Museum, which houses an impressive collection of Lebanon's history from pre-historic times to the present, is still closed. The only other museum open is the archaeology museum at the American University of Beirut.
A walk along Beirut's Corniche is a pleasant way to pass the time. Pushcart vendors offer an array of local snacks and drinks, and there are open-air cafes.
Beirut's famous Pigeon Rocks stand tall in the sea. Restaurants in this area serve local and foreign cuisine, and cliff-side cafes offer a good range of snacks.
On Sunday at Beirut's racetrack, racing enthusiasts can watch pure bred Arabian horses run.
Within an hour's drive of Beirut are many attractions -- beach resorts, historical sites, orange groves, and spectacular mountain scenery -- that are easy to get to on a day trip from the capital.
Just 15km from Beirut on the northern highway are commemorative inscriptions and bas-relief sculptures carved into the limestone cliffs. Rameses II, Nebuchadnezzar, Marcus Aurelius -- some of history's most famous military men -- left steles behind to record their victories in this ancient form of carving.
Jounieh has grown from a cluster of red tile roofed houses into a city of high rise buildings on the mountainside. The old town is full of interesting sights and for a good view of the city and coast line, take the cable car up to Harissa, a climb of 620 metres.
The grottos consist of a 6km labyrinth of galleries on two levels. A flat bottomed boat offers a unique tour of the lower level past weeping willows and gigantic stone flowers.
Equally impressive is the upper grotto (pictured) where monstrous mineral deposits crouch in shady corners.
The Bekaa Valley
Between the parallel ranges of the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon mountains lies the narrow fertile plain of the Bekaa Valley, some 3,000ft above sea level. At first glance the Bekaa Valley appears to be a checkerboard of vineyards and fields planted with grain and vegetables.
Shepherds herd their flocks of sheep and goats along rural roads dotted with farms, villages, and an abundance of evidence showing that heavy fighting took place in the area during the war. But a closer look reveals that the Bekaa Valley has several fascinating historical and archaeological relics, including the majority of Lebanon's Roman temples.
Most people reach the Bekaa Valley from Beirut via the Damascus Road, crossing the mountain pass at Dahr Al-Baidar. There are several other routes over Mt. Lebanon that will take travelers through small towns then into either the northern or southern ends of the valley.
There are army checkpoints along some roads. And during winter, roads are often closed due to heavy snow.
In the centre of the Bekaa Valley, 44km from Beirut is Chtaura, the main stopping point halfway between Beirut and Damascus. Chtaura is the valley's banking and commercial centre. Hotels, film and picnic supplies are readily available. It is the traditional rest stop for visitors to the area with numerous cheap eateries along the main road, and the starting point for the service taxis that take passengers to different destinations within the valley, as well as to Beirut and Damascus.
Chtaura's banks have English-French speaking personnel. Foreign exchange operations are handled Monday-Friday between 10.30a.m. -12.30p.m., but tourists can change money at other times at any of the small currency exchangers on the main road, which are perfectly legal. International visitors should be aware that travelers’ cheques and credit cards are not always accepted here.
The other major town, and seat of government for the Bekaa, is Zahle (pictured). Situated 8km northeast of Chtaura, this quaint picturesque town is famous for its riverside restaurants. All along the banks of the Bardaouni river are outdoor restaurants that specialize in mezze and charcoal grills. This makes Zahle a popular spot for long leisurely dining, after which the beautiful old houses can be appreciated on an unhurried walk around the town. The Bardaouni river flows out of Mt. Sannine through a wooded gorge between tall perpendicular rocks.
This 8th century Islamic city (pictured) was discovered and identified in the early 1950s. Anjar was built by the Damascus-based Umayyad on the main caravan route between the Syrian capital and the coast around 660-750 AD. Enough of the city has been reconstructed by the Department of Antiquities to get a clear idea of what the town looked like. The graceful arches, intricate carvings and symbols suggest that the architects of Anjar followed Roman-Byzantine traditions.
The two main avenues connecting the city gates, from east to west and north to south, divided the town into four quarters. Both avenues were lined with mosques, baths, livestock pens, palaces and residences.
Numerous shops suggest that Anjar served as a commercial centre. Near the archaeological site is an oasis of springs, which provide an idyllic setting for Anjar's restaurants. Fresh trout and Armenian specialties are among the most popular items.
Lebanon's greatest Roman ruins are in the north of the valley at Baalbeck, 86km from Beirut. The acropolis at Baalbeck (pictured) is one of the largest in the world. It contains the huge temples of Jupiter and Bacchus.
Constructed during the first century AD, nothing in the whole of Roman antiquity was as large as the Temple of Jupiter. Only six of its 54 Corinthian columns remain. Each column is 66 feet high and seven and a half feet thick giving an idea of the colossal size of the original building.
The nearby Temple of Bacchus, built around 150 AD, is the best preserved Roman temple in the Middle East. Outside the acropolis stands the circular temple of Venus, and the remains of a fourth temple dedicated to Mercury is close by. The temple complex was three centuries in building and never finished. These fabulous Hellenistic-Roman period ruins were the venue for the drama, music and dance performances at the Baalbeck Festival from 1956 to 1974.
The modern town of Baalbeck is small and easy to get around. It has pleasant hotels, and several shops selling locally hand-embroidered clothing. The town draws its water from Ras El Ain, an ancient spring that has been town's water source since Roman times. The ancient quarry where the massive stones for the temples were hewn from the rock can be seen at the town's entrance.