Places of Interest in Lebanon: south of Beirut

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

Southern Lebanon is where 4,000 years of colourful history is set among the citrus groves nestled up against the Mediterranean Sea, as well as the scene of heavy shelling during 1979-92 war.

Travel is permitted as far as Tyre, 80km south of Beirut, and through the Chouf Mountains, but south of Tyre is a zone restricted to authorized military personnel only.

Sidon and Tyre, the two coastal cities of southern Lebanon, were once the principal towns of ancient Phoenicia. Accommodation is difficult to find in southern Lebanon, but most places of interest can be seen on day trips from Beirut.

Sidon

Sidon, an old port town 43km from Beirut, is built like all ancient Phoenician cities on a promontory facing an island to shelter its fleet. There are few remains of the ancient city which has been twice destroyed in wars between the seventh and fourth centuries BC and again during an earthquake in the sixth century AD.

In commercial and religious significance, Sidon surpassed other Phoenician cities. Glassblowing was the most important industry, closely followed by the production of Tyrian Purple, a dye made from the shell of the murex, a marine snail.

Like all Phoenician cities, Sidon was conquered many times over. One invasion by the Persian Emperor Artaxeres III, is unique in its horror. Rather than submit to the attackers, the Sidonians locked their doors and immolated themselves in their homes.

Sidon's sights are within walking distance of each other. The vaulted souks of the Old City, the harbour, the 13th century Crusader sea castle, and the Great Mosque are west of the town square (in reality a roundabout), and the new town buildings and residential areas are on the eastern side.

Echmoun

Just outside Sidon is Bustan Al Sheikh, where the most important Phoenician temple to date has been found. The temple of Echmoun dates from the Persian period when Sidon was at its zenith. Among the most important relics at the site are Astarte's throne and basin, the shrine with Persian period bullprotomes, the foundation of three major temples, and a miniature nymphaeum with statues and mosaic flooring.

Bourak Al Ain

Two of the four original Phoenician pools at Bourak Al Ain are still used for water storage as they have been for over two centuries.

Adlin

Along the east side of the coastal road passing through the village of Adlin is an ancient Roman cemetery.

Tyre

This Phoenician city withstood a 13-year siege before it fell to Alexander the Great who literally bridged the gap between the fortified island city and the mainland by building a causeway and thus capturing the city.

Tyre became wealthy exporting the purple Tyrian-died textiles throughout the ancient world. There are three interesting areas of ruins (pictured). The colonnades, mosaic streets and Roman baths of the ancient fortified city-island, the ruins of a Crusader church and the most extensive area of ruins -- a Roman-Byzantine necropolis, and the largest Roman hippodrome ever found, which hosted chariot races in its heyday.

Beaufort Castle

None of the Crusader castles in Lebanon can compare in size and grandeur with Beaufort Castle. Perched on a rocky precipice, the view encompasses a wide area including the summit of Mount Hermon.

Chouf Mountains

The Chouf Mountains are southeast of Beirut, and were the scene of heavy fighting during the Israeli invasion of 1982. They form the southern part of the Lebanon mountain range and are geographically are every bit as spectacular as their northern counterpart.

Their main attraction is the Palace of Beiteddine. Dating from the 18-19th century the palace features richly decorated ceilings, colourful marble mosaics, luxurious Turkish baths and harem rooms in a beautiful garden setting.

Minutes away from Beiteddine is a restored palace of the same period that is now a luxury hotel. It has 24 rooms and a swimming pool which is tiled at the bottom to resemble a Persian carpet.

The picturesque town of Deir El Qamar, between Beirut and Beiteddine, was the seat of Lebanon's emirate during the 17th and 18th centuries. The town has some beautiful examples of Arab architecture including the Mosque of Fakreddine, built in 1493.

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