A view from Harissa © Ahmad Moussaoui
Lebanon has long been a meeting point of major world cultures and civilisations. Once the seat of Phoenician and Roman occupancy in the region - best seen at the pre-Roman historic site of Baalbek - today Lebanon is famous for being home to the largest and best-preserved Roman ruins in the world. In the coastal cities of Saida (Sidon) and Jbail (Byblos), tourists even have the rare opportunity to snorkel amongst submerged Phoenician ruins.
One of the highlights of visiting Lebanon, and its cosmopolitan capital city Beirut, is the constant reminder of the country's long-standing role in the history of the world. Lying on the Mediterranean Sea, at the junction of Asia, Africa and Europe, Lebanon's cities and harbours formed part of a 'global' network of trade ports during Roman times. The Békaa Valley, known in the 1st century BC as the 'granary of Rome', is still the country's main agricultural region, and one of the leading wine-producing areas in the world.
Lebanon has a remarkable natural landscape, especially when one considers how much desert surrounds it. There are four main geographical regions in Lebanon, that can easily be identified on a map. From west to east, there is the coastal plain; the Mount Lebanon Range; the Békaa Valley; and the Anti-Lebanon Range. Each region varies in topography and climate, and in what it can offer a visitor. However, because Lebanon is a small country (about the size of Cyprus), day trips to historic coastal towns and lovely mountain villages can easily be made from Beirut.
From 1975 until the early 1990s Lebanon endured a bloody civil war, which deeply scarred the country and its inhabitants, but some reconciliatory efforts towards rebuilding the nation have created a burgeoning atmosphere of open-mindedness and tolerance. These days, although it still features on consular warning lists, Lebanon remains a popular travel destination. As long as travellers remain vigilant and aware of the socio-political situation at any given time, they should enjoy a safe and pleasant passage through the biblical 'Land of the Cedars'.
The ancient cities, ski resorts, impressive architecture and striking landscapes of Lebanon are, however, just the tip of the iceberg. The country is also known for its wonderful food, internationally-renowned wineries, incredible shopping districts, red-hot nightlife and skilled artisans. Beirut, sometimes called the 'Paris of the Middle East', is a trendy and highly cosmopolitan city, where a variety of languages, nationalities and religions transcend social barriers. Tragically and ironically, Beirut suffered a twin suicide bombing attack in November 2015, a day before the Paris attacks; but, devastating as these attacks were, Beirut's resilient character continues to embody multiculturalism despite terrorism.
This melting pot of cultures continues to thrive against all odds, after years of past and ongoing disruption, exemplified by the colourful contrasts of the Mediterranean city. Modern life plays out in the midst of ancient buildings, where churches and mosques sit adjacent to one another, and where foreigners and locals still mix easily in the streets.
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