This cosmopolitan and modern city is the home of more than 1 million people, and constitutes the very heart of Lebanon's economic and cultural life. Beirut, which is usually called the Pearl of the Middle East, teems with a perceptible vitality and energy that are reflected through its position as the Lebanese capital from a geographic standpoint: a headland that drives through the deep blue sea while dominated in the background by the breathtaking mountains.
Legend has it that the city was founded by the God EI (or Elion) in homage to his beloved wife, the goddess Berout, who give her name to the city. In order to protect the city, he offered it to Poseidon, god of the sea, and to the Cabiri, the gods of navigation. Others believe that the Semite name of the city "be'erot" is derived from the word "bir", Phoenician for "well", which was given to the city after several underground sweet water wells were found in it.
The city boasts a glamorous past. 4000 years ago, it was a prosperous port on the Canaanite-Phoenician coast, and an important commercial center, as well as a crossroad for eastern and western civilizations. In the renowned tablets of Tell Al-Amarna in Egypt that go back to the 14th century BC, the city was said to be well-defended under the ruling of King Ammunira.
In the Roman era, the city became a prosperous colony that was dubbed "Colonia Julia Augusta Felix Berytus" in homage to the daughter of the emperor Augustus. Septimus Severus chose the city in the 3rd century to be the site of the law school that attracted students from all over the World at that time. The school was the tribune of many prominent jurists such as Papinianus, Ulpianus, Gaius, Paulus and the praetorian prefect of Illyria Anatoly the Beiruti, and it shone over the east region. Justinian assigned many professors who taught at the Beirut law school to put forth the legislative code that was the source of western laws for centuries. The city lived a golden era until the Byzantine epoch. Throughout a 1000 year-span, the city gradually lost its past splendor until the 18th century.
Just like other coastal cities, Beirut was occupied several times, and each occupation brought along destruction separated by intermittent periods of prosperity. This is why, when walking in the city, you feel the ancient presence of Canaanites, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Ottomans, and French; unravel a warm mixture of cultures, and communicate with a populace that mixes current tendencies with reinvented nostalgias, languages, and civilizations.
Beirut Down Town
The best way to see Beirut is on foot. A tour of the old downtown should include the Omari Mosque, the Municipality Building, the Assaf and Amir Munzir Mosques, the Arcaded Maarad Street, the Parliament Building, the Roman columns on Nejmeh Square and the historic Greek Orthodox and Greek Catholic churches opposite the Parliament.
Inspired by its French counterpart, it reflects an architectural fusion that combines French, oriental, and modern influences. The clock tower that was erected in 1933 by Michel EI Abed stands in the center of the square. The square is bordered by restaurants and cafés, and is a junction between many several restored souks.
The Greek Orthodox St. George Cathedral
The church was first built in 1767 on Crusaders and Byzantine structures neighboring the Roman law school and is considered one of the oldest buildings in the city. Its iconostasis, fresco, and icons were heavily damaged during the war, and during the restoration process, the icons were renovated by Russian and Greek artists. The cathedral is erected on the ruins of a church that goes back to the crusades era and built on the ruins of a Byzantine church, believed by some to be the church of Anastasia.
The Mohammed Al-Amin Mosque
The mosque was erected near the Martyrs' square with an Ottoman and oriental touch. It was built with yellow stones and has a blue cupola with 4 minarets that stand 65 meters high.
The National Museum
The national museum is unique since it only exhibits antiquities that were unraveled on the Lebanese land. Built in the 1930's, the museum is considered as one of the richest museums in the Middle East as the antiquities that were exposed inside grew tremendously in numbers with time. The invaluable antiquities tell the story of people and civilizations that had conquered Lebanon and lived in it.
The museum was severely damaged during the Lebanese war (1975-1990), but thorough restoration work was undertaken to restore its past glory as the conservator of the Lebanese heritage. It received visitors between 1995 and 1998 before undergoing a second restoration operation to make it consistent with the demands of modernity. In 1999, the museum was reopened to visitors who can travel in time while walking across its 3 floors packed with antiquities.
Al-Manara (lighthouse) corniche stretches between Ain EI-Mrayyseh and Ras Beirut. The corniche runs alongside the sea, offering the strollers a relaxation space where you can find joggers and lovers enjoying their time. The neighborhood is known for its sea resorts and hotels, and many restaurants and cafes sit at the roadside offering the visitors scrumptious cuisine and a relaxing panoramic view. The Beirut lighthouse borders the corniche from the south, and the street was named after it.
A good place to rest is the area of Raouche, French for "rock", where Beirut's famous Pigeons' Rocks stand tall and proud in the sparkling sea. These 2 large rocks broke up with the earth and are currently standing 60 meters tall as if they were keeping watch over the place. It is worth mentioning that several prehistoric tools were found near the pigeon grotto which can now be found at the Lebanese Prehistory Museum. Restaurants in this area serve local and foreign cuisine and cliff-side cafes offer a good range of snacks.
The Sursock Museum
The museum is all but the villa of Nicolas Sursock, which was built in 1912. In 1952, the latter gave it to the Beirut municipality which turned it into a hotel until 1960. Since 1961, the villa became an art spot where national and international artists, painters, sculptors, and photographers meet to exhibit their masterpieces.
Situated to the west of Beirut, Hamra is a fascinating street that boasts several shops, businesses, hotels, cinemas, theaters, and residential neighborhoods. It offers sundry points of attraction, but most of all, it is the first choice for students who seek some rest and exuberance in Hamra due to its proximity to the American University of Beirut. The neighborhood is home to many designer shops and small businesses and offers a wide array of choices for strollers and tourists with a shopping whim.