The weight of his­tory

Lebanon Traveler - - READER'S EXPERIENCE -

For first time vis­i­tors to Le­banon iconic tourism sites are a must. In­dian tourist Shree­kant So­many dis­cov­ers the coun­try’s an­cient his­tory still has a pres­ence

Some­time in July last year, very dear friends of my wife and I asked if we would join them on a trip to Le­banon. We were ex­cited, but the ob­vi­ous ques­tion of safety crossed our thoughts. But then, with who we were go­ing and stay­ing with was more than a re­as­sur­ance so we agreed, and had no re­grets.

The next few weeks went by, re­search­ing on the sites we planned to visit and mak­ing notes. The re­search it­self was an eye opener, as my only rec­ol­lec­tion was from my par­ents’ de­scrip­tion of Beirut as the Paris of the East with ex­trav­a­gant stage shows, the fa­mous grotto and so on. Lit­tle did I re­al­ize that Le­banon was a trea­sure trove of 7,000 years of his­tory, start­ing with the set­tling of the Ne­olithic fish­ing com­mu­nity along the coast­line, and later oc­cu­pied by Baby­lo­ni­ans, Phoeni­cians, Greeks, Egyp­tians, Ro­mans, Byzan­tine and Ot­tomans.

Rem­nants of Le­banon’s past as a trade hub for pre­cious met­als, stone, silk and bi­b­li­cal cedar wood can still be seen to­day, with cedars dat­ing back over 1000 years in the pro­tected Qadisha Val­ley. Ev­ery for­mer em­pire that once ruled over the coun­try left an in­deli­ble mark, which to­day stands as a tes­ti­mony of their great­ness.

Two im­por­tant cities in Le­banon, Tyre and Sidon, are men­tioned within the Old and New Tes­ta­ments. Though now a shadow of their for­mer selves, they main­tain im­pres­sive an­cient ru­ins. Sidon’s coastal cas­tle, orig­i­nally built as a cru­sader fort, now stands in stark con­trast to a mod­ern har­bor,. It is be­lieved the port of an­cient Sidon was in this area and, against a dis­tant back­drop of mod­ern Beirut, the cas­tle is a beau­ti­ful sight.

Fur­ther down the coast, Tyre, once an is­land city of the Phoeni­cians, is to­day dom­i­nated by a bustling, col­or­ful souk in the heart of the old city, and has an un­prece­dented splen­dor. Ex­quis­ite pur­ple tex­tiles, dyed from murex shells fished from the Mediter­ranean, caught the fancy of both Baby­lo­nian King Ne­buchad­nez­zar and Alexander the Great. The re­silient city fell to the Ro­mans in 64BC and they built colon­nades, public baths, mo­saic streets, an arena and a hip­po­drome. Rem­nants of th­ese mas­sive struc­tures stand as a re­minder of the glory of the Ro­man Em­pire that once ruled the re­gion.

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