Monday, May 16, 2011

Beirut or bust! (pt. I)

Beirut has been at the top of our list of cities to visit while living in the Middle East, especially for Sam, as it has just about everything a person interested in history, religion, architecture, urbanism, food and pop culture could ever want. We were all set to go last November, with flights and hotel booked, but because of a sudden spike in political instability at that time we switched at the last minute to Istanbul; not a bad trade, but one that left us all the more determined to see Beirut.

Despite all the turmoil in surrounding areas, Beirut has been calm lately, so this past weekend for Sam's birthday, we finally touched down on Lebanese soil. It was a quick, four-day trip, but we managed to tour American University of Beirut (AUB) and the surrounding district of Hamra, stroll the waterfront a couple of times, visit the major landmarks of the downtown area, and wander aimlessly through the narrow, Parisian-style streets of Gemmayzeh, popping into cafes, restaurants and pubs at every opportunity.

We also made it outside the city to the mountain region of Jeita, visiting the much-acclaimed Grotto (caverns), in the running to become one of the new seven wonders of the world. And we ventured even further north to the coastal town of Byblos (known to Arabs as Jbail), an ancient city dating back as early as 7000 BC, which has been inhabited and influenced by pretty much every major empire (Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Ottomans, etc, etc). Once a major port of the Mediterranean Sea, it is now a sleepy fishing village by day and trendy jet-setter destination by night, not to mention an archaeologist's dream.

Our photos are inadequate (many thanks to our temporary cheapo replacement camera), but hopefully will give you a glimpse of the raw beauty we found. Beirut is war-torn and beleaguered, but is a place determined to rebuild. Amidst rubble and shell-shocked reminders of the Lebanese Civil War are numerous development projects, including designer shopping centers, car dealerships and condominiums. 

And this will seem stereotypical, but literally, day or night, in cafes and parking lots, we spotted groups of locals spontaneously dancing to traditional ditties that seemed to be pumped into the atmosphere wherever we went. So many were eager to speak with us about their food and culture, their political views, or simply to practice their English. Despite a history marked by terror and tragedy, the Lebanese are full of life and looking for ways of expressing it.

AUB's campus - Spanish-mission style, built on rolling hills filled with lush cedars and flowering trees, all overlooking the Mediterranean, simply stunning!--

 Entire neighborhoods being renovated.--

Roman ruins in the middle of downtown.--

In Gemmayzeh, quaint streets lined with colorful old buildings,-- 

punctuated by bombed-out homes and peeling facades.--

A 12th-century Crusader castle, in Byblos,--

with its views of the village and ancient ruins, not to mention the Mediterranean.--

Looking back toward Beirut,--

where we and the fishermen enjoyed the Corniche by day--

and by night.--

Not a bad way to spend a birthday!--


  1. WHAT A WONDERFUL way to celebrate a birthday !! i wish i was going somewhere for my birthday !! how lovely would that be :D

  2. As always, great pics to help us to experience your adventure vicariously. Ih ad no idea Beirut was so picturesque, despite the ravages of war.