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     Lebanon is indeed a small country, slightly more than ten thousand square kilometres in area. But very few countries in the world, if any, could claim so much charm packed in such an area. The Lebanese call their country: God’s Paradise on Earth. Probably they have every right; for they have unsurpassed natural beauty, more than fingerprints of countless civilizations over many millenniums, world famous traditions, all coupled with a very hospitable, fun-loving people.

Its coastline of 225 km along the Eastern Mediterranean runs parallel to a double ridge of mountains: the evergreen western Mount Lebanon reaching over 3000 meters and the arid Anti-Lebanon on the east. In between the two ridges lies the fertile Beqaa valley, which, in many ways, is distinct from the coastal region. Lebanon has as well three different climates, despite its small size: rainy cold winters and hot humid summers along the coast, snowy winter and springs, and cool summer in the Alpine Mountains in the middle, and the Beqaa valley with its dry & hot summers, dry and frosty winters.

In fact, every village, town and city in Lebanon has its own attractions, history, traditional handicraft, and nightlife. A visit to Lebanon will not be complete without touring the beautiful resorts of Al Matn, or tasting the famous tabbouli or Kebbeh of Zahleh, or watching some of Lebanon famous singers and dancers performing in tens of nightclubs that cater to every taste. Some of the most popular places in Lebanon are:

Beirut, the Capital, once known as the “Paris of the East”, lies along a magnificent portion of the coast, with towering mountains behind it, visible when the traffic haze settles down. The Corniche seafront boasts beaches, restaurants, theatres and a dazzling variety of shops and restaurants. Beirut has suffered greatly from Lebanon's 16-year civil war, but following an impressive and ongoing process of reconstruction, the city is once again one of the most popular tourist and business destinations in the Middle East.

While many of the new buildings look very modern, Beirut's old souks are being reconstructed in an authentic way. Lebanon's only museum, the Beirut National Museum, has been rehabilitated and is constantly updating its interesting collection. On the western tip of Beirut, Raouche is an increasingly popular district with a lively seaside promenade. Its famous landmark, the Pigeon Rocks, are huge formations standing like sentinels off the coast. 20km (13 miles) north of Beirut, the spectacular Jeita caverns are a popular tourist attraction. The caverns are on two levels, and the lower gallery includes an underground waterway, which can be visited by boat (but may be closed during winter).

Tripoli, the country's second city, dates back to the 8th century BC and the town centre, though surrounded by modern housing developments and beach resorts, has preserved its character. There are two parts – the port area and the city proper – that are divided by acres of fragrant orange plantations. Tripoli's old medieval centre at the foot of the Crusader castle has a number of interesting mosques.

Baalbeck, Lebanon's greatest Roman treasure, can be counted among the wonders of the ancient world The largest and most noble Roman temples ever built, they are also among the best preserved Towering high above the Beqaa plain, their monumental proportions proclaimed the power and wealth of Imperial Rome> The gods worshipped here, the Triad of Jupiter, Venus and Mercury, were grafted onto the indigenous deities of Hadad, Atargatis and a young male god of fertility. Local influences are also seen in the planning and layout of the temples, which vary from the classic Roman design.

Over the centuries Baalbeck's monuments suffered from theft, war and earthquakes, as well as from numerous medieval additions. Fortunately, the modern visitor can see the site in something close to its

original form thanks to work in the past hundred years by many archaeologists.

Baalbeck is located on two main historic trade routes, one between the Mediterranean coast and the Syrian interior and the other between northern Syria and northern Palestine. Today the city, 85 kilometres from Beirut, is an important administrative and economic centre in the Beqaa valley.

During the Hellenistic period the Greeks identified the god of Baalbeck with the sun god and the city was called Heliopolis or City of the Sun. At this time the ancient enclosed court was enlarged and a podium was erected on its western side to support a temple of classical form. Although the temple was never built, some huge structures from this Hellenistic project can still be seen. And it was over the ancient court that the Romans placed the present Great Court of the Temple of Jupiter.

Tyre was founded at the start of the 3rd millennium BC and, today, still bears impressive traces of its ancient origins. Tyre's archaeological sites are divided into three areas: area one is located on what was the Phoenician island and contains ruins of the large district of civic buildings, public baths and mosaic streets; area two contains an extensive network of Romano-Byzantine roads and other installations; area three is most notable for containing one of the largest Roman hippodromes ever found.

Byblos is reputed to be the oldest town in the world, with excavations unearthing artefacts dating back to Neolithic times as well as from Canaanite, Phoenician, Hellenistic, Roman and Crusader periods. Fishing boats and pleasure craft ply the old harbour. Even the Phoenicians considered it a city of great antiquity. Although its beginnings are lost in time, modern scholars say the site of Byblos goes back at least 7,000 years

Today Byblos (Jbeil in Arabic) on the coast 70 kilometres north of Beirut, is a prosperous place with glass-fronted office buildings and crowded streets. But within the old town, medieval Arab and Crusader   remains   are   continuous reminders of the past. Nearby are the extensive excavations that make Byblos one of the most important archaeological sites in the area.

Beiteddine, in the Chouf Mountains, is the site of the palace built by the Amir Basheer in the 19th century. The courtyard and staterooms are well worth a visit.

Besharre, in the north, is simply known as the "The Cedars," this resort settlement in Lebanon's highest range is one of the most dramatically beautiful spots in the country. Its centrepiece is an ancient grove of cedars, a tree synonymous for millennia with Lebanon itself. Just below the Cedars is the town of Bsharre, birthplace of the famous Lebanese poet Gibran Khalil Gibran, author of The Prophet.

At the crest you look down the other side into a gigantic bowl where the ski resort, the cedar grove and the Qadisha gorge lie before you in a wide-angle panorama.

In addition, there are some more gentle cedars near Tannourine. In Jaj near Laqlouq isolated specimens of cedars are still scattered on the rocky peaks above the town. Deep in the Shouf district on top of Mount Barouk, cedars some 350 years old grow in an enclosed grove. These trees, which are in pristine condition, can be easily admired from outside the protective wall. Above the town of Maaser esh-Shouf, there is another cedar forest, which has an extended view of the Beqaa valley. Cedar trees also grow in nearby Ain Zhalta.

Lebanese cuisine is widely acknowledged to be the finest in the Middle East. Excellent Lebanese food is available everywhere. A dish unique to Lebanon is kebbeh, made of very finely minced mutton, with burghul or cracked wheat, and served raw or baked in flat trays or rolled into balls and fried. Also recommended is the traditional Lebanese mezza, a range of up to 40 small dishes served as appetizers. Lebanon is also famous for its fresh fruit, including melon, apples, oranges, persimmon, tangerines, cactus fruit, grapes and figs. There are also large choices of international restaurants, which offer dishes from all over the world.

Nightclubs spice up the evenings in Beirut and mountain resorts. Entertainment ranges from solo guitarists to orchestras and floorshows. Some British-style pubs can be found in Beirut. There are many cinemas presenting the latest films from all over the world. After extensive refurbishment, the internationally renowned Casino du Liban in Maameltain (22km/14 miles north of Beirut) was reopened in 1997.


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