Lebanon is a country the size of Massachusetts located in the middle east. It is one of few Arab countries with literally no oil. Despite the lack of oil, Lebanon has become a jewel in the Middle Easts crown, with Beirut, the capital, being called "the Paris of the Middle East".
Lebanon is a country with the Mediterranean Sea to its west, Israel to the south, and Syria to the North and East. Beirut has the Mediterranean Sea, and the Lebanon Mountains around it. The anti Lebanon Mountains are on the Eastern bounds of the country. In between is the Bek'aa Valley. Lebanon's coast is the only sea level part of the country, as the rest of the country is much above sea level. The soil is rugged, and rocky. The climate is hot and humid in the summer, and fall, cool and wet in the winter, and warm, and dry in the spring. Temperatures in Beirut range between 45-100 degrees Fahrenheit, and snow only occurs in the mountains.
A Brief History:
Lebanon is considered the home of the Phoenicians, a maritime civilization who controlled the Mediterranean before the Romans. From Phoenicia spawned Carthage, arch rival of Rome, known for their great general Hannibal. Phoenician colonies included Genoa, Larnaca (in Cyprus), Tripoli (in Libya), and Malaga. They had colonies all the way in present day Mauritania, on the West African coast! The Phoenician alphabet is believed to be the ancestor of nearly all modern alphabets. The Persians took Phoenicia over in the 6th century B.C.E.(B.C.), leading to a long reign of foreign rulers. These included the Greeks, Egyptians, Armenians, and Romans. Under Rome, there was relative peace, and commerce was high, centered in Tyre, Byblos, and Beirut. The Romans are said to have built Baalbeck, a majestic city in rural Lebanon(who's ruins you can see), which they called Heliopolis (city of the sun). It is a UNESCO heritage sight, and is truly beautiful. Earthquakes demolished parts of Baalbek, and Justinian took columns from it to build the Hagia Sophia. The Lebanese then went under Arab control, this is when Islam established itself as a major religion in the region, countering the Maronite Catholics in the region. Lebanon were then taken in the Crusades in the early 1100's, then falling to the Mongols, and the Mamluks. It is here that Lebanons Shia Muslims moved into the region. After Ottoman rule for 400 years, Lebanon became part of the French mandate after WW1. Lebanon became independent in 1943, and the French left after WW2 in 1946. Lebanon helped in several Arab invasions of Israel, before being ravaged in civil war. The Civil War started in 1975 after a masscre started when Maronite Christians attacked a bus of Palestinians, sparking a 15 year conflict that set back an up and coming nation. Up to 300,000 people were killed, and over a 1,000,000 wounded, some with lifetime disabilites. All over Beirut, buildings were covered in holes from grenades, and bullets, and this war is said to have been the spawning ground for suicide bombing. It militia vs. militia, Christian vs. Muslim, Muslim vs. Muslim, Christian vs. Christian, an all around dirty conflict. To make things worse, Israel, and Syria intervened, as well as the U.S. In 1990, a power sharing agreement between the Christians, Muslims, and others was drawn up. One dollar was 3 Lebanese pounds. Now, 1 dollar is 1500 Lebanese Pounds, the Lebanese Pound is now pegged to the Dollar, the value doesnt change vs. the dollar. Lebanon has entered economic growth, and debt has gone down recently, as Lebanon's strict financial security rules prevented collapse in the recent financial crisis. Hezbollah's war against Israel hurt Lebanons infrastructure but the country has gotten over this, and is now a huge touristic destination.
What to do in Lebanon?
What isn't there to do! Beirut was the #1 tourism spot of 2009 according to the NY Times, and as a past visitor, 1 must agree! One can go to Lebanon in October, or November and go to the beach, as the temperature can get to 80 degrees F, or 25 degrees C. In the winter, Beirut doesnt go much below 55 during the day, making for some beautiful weather. In the summer, beaches are a great idea, but to escape the heat, one can go to the mountains that form a ring around the city to a village and cool off. There is the iconic Cedar tree, a 2 hour drive from Beirut but well, well worth it. The Cedar only grows in the mountains, and it takes up a day to go, and come back from the mountains. Baalbek, as stated above, are Roman ruins, 2-3 hours away, right in the middle of the Bekaa valley. It does get hot there, even in the winter. In the North of Lebanon, Byblos is a major site. There are ruins here too, and Byblos is one of the worlds oldest continuisly inhabited cities. In the south of Lebanon there are even more ruins, Tyre and Sidon. If in Beirut, there are cafes everywhere, in the city and around it, and the new Souks of Beirut make for remarkable outdoor shopping, near the Lebanese Parliament building. Jeita Grotto, a 20 minute drive from Beirut, is an intricate series of spectacular caves formed by years of water erosion. Stalagmites and stalactites are found in the caves, and one can take a boat ride into the caves, making for some amazing sights. One can also visit the Casino du Liban, for some gambling and drinks, and a good time. The Notre Dame du Liban, accessible by car or cable car, is a monument of the Virgin Mary built by the Maronite Christians. It is beautiful for the views, and there is a basilica at the top of the hill as well.
What's Bad about Lebanon?
Now that I convinced you why to go to Lebanon, I think I must say why one might not to go. First of all, everybody smokes, hookah, cigarettes etc, so if you squeem at the sight or sell of smoke, stay away. Second and, in my opinion most importantly, traffic. There is one highway for about 2 million cars. Roads are poor other than this highway, and drivers are even worse. Lebanese driving is reckless, with no rules. There is no respect for drivers, and there are few traffic lights that aren't observed. Drivers are terrible, there are no two ways about it. Recent political developments prove that Lebanon isn't very politically stable. Conflicts with Israel exist, as well as Hezbollah as an internal threat to the Pro-West government.
Lebanon is one of the most beautiful and diverse countries on the planet. Christians, and Muslims share a culture in the capital of Beirut. If you go in the winter, skiing is a good idea, but it is a 1 hour drive from Beirut to the mountains worth skiing. In the summer? Beach, Beach, Beach. And maybe the Casino du Liban for some clubbing. In the fall, it is hot enough to go to the beach, but cool enough to go up in the hills around Beirut, and enjoy cool, brisk air. However, the best time to go to Beirut, and to Lebanon is the spring. Flowers are blooming, the air is warm, and dry, and there are still places to ski in the mountains. Before going to Lebanon in any season, it is key to look at the news and see if there is any instability in the country.