Paris of the Middle East

Beirut, Lebanon’s capital city, offers a unique confluence of cultures and faiths, despite often being overshadowed by its recent troubled past

Beautiful beaches, towering mountains, little towns that have a clear French influence, ancient ruins, buzzing restaurants – Beirut, the capital city of Lebanon, will never fail to impress you. Set against the breath-taking Mount Lebanon, with the deep-blue Mediterranean Sea stretching out before it, Beirut teems with a tangible vitality and energy. No wonder, the city is often referred to as the ‘Paris of the Middle East’.

Glorious past

The name of Beirut is derived from the word ‘bir’, which is the Phoenician word for ‘well’. The city was given the name after several underground sweet-water wells were discovered within it. The city boasts a glamorous past. As early as 4,000 years ago, it was a prosperous port on the Canaanite-Phoenician coast and an important commercial centre serving  as crossroads for Eastern and Western civilisations.

A stunning set of rocks welcomes you to Beirut. Also known as the Rock of Raouché, Pigeons’ Rock is located at the city’s westernmost tip – with the two huge rock formations standing like gigantic sentinels to the city. Locals love to walk along the Corniche (a seaside promenade) at any time of day, but it gets especially busy around sunset.

History buffs will have a field day in Beirut, and they will find its storied past too fascinating to ignore. The Beirut Heritage Trail is a prime example of this — go back in time with a walk along a marked mile-and-a-half-long path and see Byzantine mosaics, Roman baths, mosques, ancient streets and ruins from the Canaanite and Ottoman eras.

Walk and discover

It is said that the best way to explore any city is by walking. This holds true for Beirut as well. There are an estimated 300

buildings and houses in the greater Beirut area that classify as traditional, and many neighbourhoods are signposted as ‘Rue à Caractère Traditionnel’, designating high concentrations of classic architecture. Sursock and Clemenceau boast quite a few old residences that are still inhabited, and the quiet back streets of Manara have lovely, ornate apartment buildings.

Inspired by its French counterpart, Nejmeh Square is a pedestrian zone that combines French, Oriental and modern influences. Surrounded by restaurants, cafés, mosques and cathedrals, as well as the Lebanese Parliament building, the square is a junction between several restored souks. It is one of the most shared public spaces in Beirut, popular with families and casual strollers.

Before being eclipsed by the Mohammad al-Amin Mosque, the Omari Mosque was Beirut’s central mosque, which takes its name from the caliph Omar Ibn AI-Khattab. The mosque’s interior sandstone walls are decorated in Mamluk and Ottoman inscriptions.

date with history

Beirut has a rich heritage. From an ancient coastal city to a cosmopolitan capital, it has a lot of stories to tell. If you’re interested in local archaeology, the Beirut National Museum is the one for you. It holds collections that date back to the prehistoric ages and go on till the Islamic empires. Over 1,300 artefacts grace the floors of the building and tell the stories of ages that have passed.

The Robert Maawad Private Museum in the centre of downtown Beirut holds a collection of carefully assembled items that reflect the history of the Lebanese culture. People curious to know about the richness of the Lebanese art scene should visit the Sursock Museum.

Land of festivals

Every year, Lebanon transforms into a constellation of rhythm, radiance and revelry. Celebrating music and art in sites where the past and the present converge, the city witnesses a busy season of festivals and cultural events in summer. Some of the most prominent during this time of the year are Batroun Festival, Oumsiyat Zahle International Festival and Amchit International Festival.

By: Amani Sharif

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