Places of Interest in Lebanon: Beirut

Places of Interest in Lebanon: Beirut Last updated on Thursday 22nd April 2010

Beirut (pictured) is Lebanon's capital and largest city with a population of 1.4 million. Before the war (1975-92), Beirut was known as the Paris of the East, but after 17 years of conflict its motto is now "the city that wouldn't die". Its war wounds are still visible -- whole neighbourhoods, including the city centre, were severely damaged, but today Beirut is once again showing the world that it is a city that wants and knows how to live.

The destroyed city centre is once again active. City planners are constructing their new Beirut with high-rise buildings, commercial complexes and cultural centres. They see its former reputation as a crossroads between three continents and gateway to the east not only restored but also updated.

The new city's founding fathers hold computer-rendered plans to show an extended coastline, a new mixed residential area and tourist recreation centres built around a central park. Underground parking and wider roads will relieve some of the traffic that currently causes chaos as construction workers vie for space with the expensive cars of the corporate executives and vendor carts.

Despite the disorganized state of Beirut as it rebuilds for the 21st century, it hasn't lost its vibrancy, or historical relics from previous centuries.

Four new archaeological excavation sites have already unearthed finds from the Ottoman, Byzantine, Roman, Persian and Phoenician periods. Traces of Roman ruins excavated before the war await a good cleanup and an improvement to their surrounds, but are nevertheless worth visiting. They include the Roman baths behind Bank Street and the Roman columns west of St. George's Cathedral.

Much of Beirut can be seen on foot. All the major banks, hotels, restaurants, travel, airline and telecommunications offices are in the Hamra district.

Locating an address in Beirut seems complicated at first as street signs, when they exist, give the names in French and Arabic, and often bear no relation to what they are commonly called. Many locations are simply known by the description of who occupies them.

Buildings rarely have numbers. When asking for directions people will refer you to landmarks rather than a street address. It isn't as difficult as it sounds and first- time visitors get used to this way of locating places very quickly. Taxi drivers are helpful, and almost all of them know where everything is.

Beirutis are warm and friendly people. With their usual pluck they'll tell you how their city was destroyed in the 6th century by two earthquakes, a tidal wave and later a fire. After each disaster it was able to rise again and recapture its splendour and they expect no less of the city this time.

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