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*** NOTE : We will be adding more information about other tourist attractions in Lebanon like Syr and Akkar in north Lebanon and other cities in South Lebanon as well.

> The Essentials of Lebanon
Official Name: Republic of Lebanon.

Health Certificates: Yellow-fever certificate required if you're arriving from infected areas.

Capital: Beirut.

Currency: Lebanese pound, or lira (LL). 100 piastres = 1 LL.

Population: 3,564,000.

Area: 4,015 sq mi/10,399 sq km.

Languages: Arabic (official), French, Armenian.

Economy: Industry, agriculture.

Predominant Religions: Muslim, Christian, Druze.

Government: Parliamentary democracy.

Weather: Semitropical, arid.

Time Zone: 2 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (+2 GMT). Daylight Saving Time is not observed.

Voltage Requirements: 220 volts.

Telephone Codes: 961, country code.

Airport Departure Tax: 100,000 LL for first class, 75,000 LL for business class, 50,000 LL for economy class.

10%-15% in restaurants if a service charge is not already included in the bill. Not required in hotels and taxis

> Overview

Lebanon offers an array of scenic and historical sights. In Beirut, the capital, we found ourselves returning again and again to the Corniche, a wide shoreline promenade. It's Lebanon in miniature, full of charm and contradictions, and a good spot to watch the spectacle of Beirutis of all faiths, factions and ages strolling, jogging or skating by. There and elsewhere in the city, you'll realize that east and west not only meet, they dance.

The country isn't that large, and day trips to historic coastal towns and lovely mountain villages are easily made from Beirut. In Jbail you can walk among the remains of several civilizations, and in Bcharre you can hike in a deep gorge or relax in a grove of graceful cedars. When it comes to skiing, you have your choice of water or snow, depending on the season.

Lebanon has diverse terrain in a relatively small area: The 135-mi/215-km Mediterranean coastline stretches along a narrow, flat plain that gives way to the Mount Lebanon range, whose tallest peaks are covered in snow in the winter. Another range, the Anti-Lebanon, runs farther east along the border with Syria, and the fertile Bekaa Valley lies between the two ranges

Where to go in Lebanon

Although a relatively small town, Arnun has an impressive sight: Beaufort Castle, which sits atop a 1,000-ft/305-m cliff overlooking the Litani River. Many conquerors have walked along the battlements of this Crusader castle. However, the castle was damaged during the civil war. 

Baalbek, in the northern Bekaa Valley, has the most impressive classical ruins in Lebanon, and it's one of the most important Roman sites in the Middle East.

Although the town predates Roman times, little is left of the Phoenician city of Baal or the subsequent Greek city of Heliopolis (City of the Sun). The architectural attractions left standing are entirely of Roman design, built in the 1st century AD. Some historians attribute the enormous scale and rich detail of the buildings to religious rivalry: Christianity was growing in popularity, and the Romans wanted to entice the local population to stick with pagan worship.

You'll enter the complex through the Propylaea, a colonnaded entrance, and then proceed through a hexagonal court to the Great Court with its two altars where sacrifices took place. Straight ahead, up the wide set of stairs, is what remains of the Temple of Jupiter. Only six of the original 54 columns are still standing, but these alone give you an idea of the incredible height of the building. The columns are said to be the largest in the world.

Though smaller than the Temple of Jupiter, the nearby Temple of Bacchus is a wonderfully preserved architectural beauty. Take your time walking around its outer portico, marveling at the intricately carved stone. From this position you also have a good view of the huge stone blocks that formed the foundation for the Temple of Jupiter—some of the blocks are believed to weigh more than 1,000 tons. Finally, enter the Temple of Bacchus at its eastern end, walking up the flight of stairs and through the ornate doorway. Peer up at the keystone, which was a popular subject for sketch-happy 18th-century European travelers. Their drawings show the stone hanging perilously low, but it seems to have been reset in recent times with modern mortar.

There are some modern cultural attractions as well, the most important being the renowned Baalbek International Music Festival. It is once again being held there annually in July or August. Baalbek can be seen as a day trip from Beirut. Allow at least a half day (not including travel time) for this impressive site. 55 mi/85 km northeast of Beirut.

This splendid mountain resort is perched above the eastern end of the beautiful Kadisha Gorge. The town's red-tiled roofs, olive groves and mountain scenery remind us of a Greek village—or half a dozen other scenic spots along the eastern Mediterranean. Although it's popular both as a cool summer retreat for coastal dwellers and a winter base for snow skiers, Bcharre can seem downright dead in the off-season. Sightseeing options are limited to several churches and the Gibran Museum, which pays tribute to Khalil Gibran, Lebanon's most famous author and Bcharre's native son. Bcharre is also a convenient base for visiting the Cedars of Lebanon or hiking in the 30-mi-/50-km-long valley below. Note that the road leading east from Bcharre over the mountains into the Bekaa Valley (and to Baalbek) is open only during the summer. 40 mi/65 km northeast of Beirut.

Beirut needs no introduction—but it definitely deserves an update.

For many people, the very name Beirut is synonymous with civil war and chaos. Indeed, it would be hard to underestimate the devastating effects of the 17-year conflict, which turned the heart of a bustling, cosmopolitan metropolis into a virtual ghost town of rubble. But now, a decade after the end of the civil war, visitors can see how the Lebanese are rebuilding their capital and bringing life back to the city center. Even with its turbulent past, Beirut continues to be an exquisite experience: a bewildering composition of cultures and faiths, perched on a breathtaking sweep of Mediterranean coastline.

Atmosphere, not necessarily a long list of sights, is what Beirut delivers best. Its mix of peoples, religions and cultures gives the city a dynamic edge, and watching Beirutis go about their everyday business is an interesting form of sightseeing. The best place to take it all in is along the Corniche. In a city of few open, green spaces, this long seaside promenade functions as a kind of park, a public gathering space. You'll see people of all ages, in all forms of dress, walking, jogging, eating and generally visiting there. The Corniche also has wonderful views of the coast. Pigeon Rocks, a group of rock formations set in a cove in Raouche, is the most dramatic of the views, as well as a popular backdrop for evening drinks.

Even Beirut's No. 1 sight is a bit unorthodox. The historical downtown, the neighborhood most devastated during the civil war, is the focus of a huge redevelopment project. Government buildings, mosques and churches have been or are being restored there. Among these are the Grand Serail, the Municipality Building, Al-Omari Mosque, St. George's Greek Orthodox Cathedral and St. George's Maronite Cathedral. Near the Grand Serail are the restored Roman Baths. Other downtown archaeological sites are being restored for public viewing. New shops and restaurants are also drawing crowds back.

Relics of Beirut's past can also be seen in local museums. The National Museum, which reopened in 1999 after being closed for many years, showcases antiquities in a well-thought-out manner. A smaller, yet still impressive collection is on view at the American University of Beirut Archaeology Museum. The AUB's beautiful campus is also worth exploring. Finally, the lovely Sursock Museum occasionally displays antiquities, but its primary focus is on contemporary Lebanese art.

Between museums, take time to explore the surrounding neighborhoods. Ashrafieh, where the Sursock Museum is located, has narrow, winding streets and some beautiful old residences. Hamra, south of the American University, is a good place to soak up the city's daily life. At the end of the day, head back to the Corniche to see the sunset and take in the wonderful evening atmosphere.

Before the civil war, Beirut was a hothouse of experimentation, its liberal atmosphere attracting artists, performers and directors from all over the Middle East. The postwar scene is significantly smaller and, in the absence of state or private subsidies, much quieter than in the 1970s. However, the last few years have seen a resurgence of public interest in the arts, which has led to the creation of several new artistic movements.

Chief among these is Shams, a loose theater/cinema/performing arts collective dreamed up by members of the Lebanese New Wave of the '70s but designed to showcase the best of fresh, young talent. Shams events, almost all in Arabic, are held throughout the year at the Beirut Theater in Ain el-Mreisseh. Other theatrical venues include Al-Madina Theater (Clemenceau) and the Monot Theater (Ashrafieh). The various foreign cultural centers, especially the French, the British and the German ones, also put on an array of performances throughout the year.

The Lebanese approach to nightlife involves eating as much as drinking, and the combination can make for some late nights indeed. From the quietest to the most decadent, your options include sipping drinks at a cafe; taking in a movie or a live show; or dancing until dawn (even on tabletops) at the multitude of clubs and bars that have shot up in recent years. Or, of course, you can do all three.

While many guidebooks still point travelers in the direction of Hamra, the real nightlife beat has definitely moved east. Those in the know head for the cafes and clubs in the Monot section of Ashrafieh (such as Babylone, Pacifico, Rai) or the zany, all-night funspots of Kaslik, near Jounieh (about 30 minutes north of Beirut). Another good dance spot is BO 18, next to Forum de Beyrouth. Hamra is fairly dead after dark, though student clubs, such as Goa and Smuggler's Inn, are still hopping. The remainder of west Beirut's nightlife is confined to the larger hotels and a couple of seedy strip joints. Many nightspots don't keep precise hours, but dance clubs generally open in the early evening and stay open until sunrise.

The Palace of Beiteddine is one of the most popular day trips from Beirut, and the drive through the beautiful Chouf Mountains is an added bonus. The palace, completed in the early 1800s, is the product of Italian architects and Levantine artisans. Touring the complex of rooms and buildings, connected by terraces and courtyards, can be a bit disorienting, though: You're never quite sure where you have or haven't been. But don't give up until you've seen the baths, the kitchens, the harem, the reception room and the nicely landscaped gardens. There are several museums and exhibitions on site, including the Ethnographic Museum, the Joumblatt Memorial Exhibit (honoring the late Druze leader) and a nice collection of Byzantine mosaics displayed in the former stables. An international festival is held at the palace every summer in July or August.

On your way to or from Beiteddine, you can stop off in Deir al-Qamar, a scenic town with many well-preserved historical buildings. You'll also, no doubt, notice Castle Mousa along the way. It was built by a man with a strange fetish for things medieval. It belongs in a category with Bavaria's Neuschwanstein and Disneyland's castle, but trust us, it's even less authentic. Beiteddine is 30 mi/45 km southeast of Beirut.

Today, a cedar tree graces Lebanon's flag, but few of the fabled trees remain. If you want to see them, it will require some effort on your part. The best place to get a look at the famous trees is at the grove on Mt. Makmal (about 5 mi/10 km east of Bcharre). At 6,000 ft/1,800 m above sea level (take along a sweater), a cluster of large old cedars survive. There are two entrances to the park: one off the main road, among the souvenir stands, and another one farther up the road on the way to the ski resort (this entrance seems to stay open later). In the midst of the trees is a strange piece of art. A French artist, who's involved in the campaign to protect and plant cedars, carved a sculpture out of the trunk of a dead tree rather than let it be chopped down. Also, see if you can pick out the two trees called Adam and Eve—their trunks are joined at the "hip." Mt. Makmal is 45 mi/75 km northeast of Beirut.

This fresh-air village in the Mount Lebanon range is a gateway to some of the best scenery in the country. Located near the Kadisha Gorge, Ehden is also a good base for visiting the Horsh Ehden Forest Nature Reserve, which protects native flora and fauna. There are several churches and monuments in the town, but nature viewing and hiking are the biggest draws. 60 mi/100 km northeast of Beirut.

While other cities may claim to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, Jbail, or Byblos, has the goods to back its claim. And visitors will be happy to discover that the evidence (spanning approximately 6,000 years) is located in a relatively compact area.

The Byblos Archaeological Site, as it's officially called, has a mind-boggling inventory, including a Crusader castle and the ruins of a Persian castle, Amorite temples, a Greek well, a Roman theater and a necropolis containing the tomb of King Hiram. (His sarcophagus, as well as many other artifacts unearthed in Jbail, are on display in Beirut's National Museum.) The archaeological site also has some Bronze Age remains, though to the untrained eye they look like little more than crushed stones.

In the modern—that is, medieval—center of Jbail you'll find the Romanesque-style Church of St. John the Baptist. The souk area is located nearby, but it's a bit too clean and airy to be called authentic. You're more likely to buy jeans or shoes there than traditional Lebanese crafts. 22 mi/35km north of Beirut.

The Lebanese love to show visitors this natural wonder, with its many stalagmites and stalactites in a series of caves. In summer, a boat ferries passengers across a subterranean lake, which is the source of the Dog River. In the past, concerts with hundreds of listeners have been staged in the grotto, but most visitors will have to settle for a sound-and-light show. 12 mi/20 km north of Beirut.

Jounieh's setting is still one of the most beautiful along the Lebanese coast. For the best view of the crescent-shaped bay, take the steep cable car (telepherique) up to Harissa. (The station is in the middle of Jounieh, between the highway and the old coastal road.) At the other end of the cable car line you transfer to an incline car, which takes you up to the lookout point surrounding the shiny, white statue of the Virgin of Lebanon. If you want to go still higher, you can climb the ramp around the statue's base—the closer you come to her lowered, outstretched hands, the narrower the ramp becomes?and the pushier the people get. The view is spectacular, though, and the virgin, seen from close up, has a sweet, sad charm all her own.

On your way to or from Jounieh you can stop off at Nahr al-Kalb (the Dog River) to view the inscriptions carved into the river-gorge walls by a long line of conquering armies. Jounieh is 15 mi/20 km north of Beirut.

Like most coastal cities in Lebanon, Sidon (Saida in Arabic) was a Phoenician settlement (founded around 4000 BC). Its name means "fortified," but apparently this didn't stop a long list of invading armies over the centuries.

An earthquake inflicted heavy damage in 1837, but there's still plenty to see: the picturesque Crusader Sea Castle (on a small island connected to the mainland by a walking bridge), the Great Mosque (originally a Crusader church) and the Frankish-style Castle of St. Louis. Be sure to visit the Khan al-Franj, near the souk area. Originally an inn for traveling merchants, it has been restored and now serves as a cultural center. The Temple of Eshmoun is just north of town and is one of the best preserved Phoenician sites in Lebanon. Sidon is 25 mi/40 km south of Beirut.

Lebanon's second-largest city (pop. 240,000) lies a bit off the beaten tourist track, but Tripoli merits a day's visit. It has a more distinctively Arab atmosphere than other cities in Lebanon and also has many Crusader-era and medieval sites. Worth visiting are the 12th-century St. Giles Castle (the citadel) and the Grand Mosque with its Lombardy-style bell tower, as well as the Old Town's many other mosques, madrassahs (theological schools), hamman (bathhouses) and khans (inns) currently being restored. Take time to stroll through the souks, and don't pass up some of the best pastries in Lebanon at the patisserie RaF'at Hallab Fils on Rue Tall near Sahet et-Tall, the city's main plaza. 50 mi/80 km north of Beirut. more information about Tripoli-Lebanon can be found on Tripoli-Lebanon.com

As a Phoenician city, Tyre was so powerful that the Mediterranean Sea was then called the Tyrian Sea. For centuries its walls were deemed impregnable, but today it depends on its status as a World Heritage Site for protection.

Greek, Roman and Byzantine remains mingle in two archaeological sites open to visitors. One set of excavated ruins is on the Old Town's southern end—it used to be an island before Alexander the Great built a causeway to it and centuries of silt filled in the rest. About half an hour's walk to the east is the other archaeological site, which includes a Roman necropolis, triumphal arch, aqueduct and the reconstructed Hippodrome (used in the film Ben Hur). 50 mi/80 km south of Beirut.

If you want to overnight in the Bekaa Valley (before or after visiting Baalbek), Zahle is a good spot. This resort town is situated in a nice river valley, and it's known as the restaurant and wine capital of Lebanon. At the upper end of the valley are several outdoor restaurants, all of them with long, white-tablecloth-decked tables set for hundreds of guests. After dinner, you can go window-shopping or stroll around town looking at the nice old villas—there's not much else to do there. 35 mi/55 km northeast of Beirut

source: iexplore.com



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