Beirut is the capital of Lebanon and a city with many faces, each more interesting than the one before. The local nightlife is one of the most active in the Middle East, and there are 18 religions practiced in the country, so of course there's a huge number of religious buildings: the prayer rooms of orthodox churches, Catholic churches, mosques, Druze ... there are some very interesting cultural centres that periodically host exhibitions. The Pigeon's Rocks are a series of rock formations near the coast, protected by UNESCO, and are the natural highlight of the city. You can get around by taxis, collective taxis, or buses ... the only obstacle being the traffic everywhere!
Sidon is the 3rd largest city in Lebanon. It lies on the Mediterranean coast, about 40 miles north of Tyre and 50 south of the capital. Sidon was an important city of Phoenicia, founded in the same era as Tyre. "The Sea Castle" was built by the Crusaders in the 13th century on an island just above sea level. The strait that separated the island rock was quickly filled as they built 2 ports, 1 facing south, called '' the Egyptian port'' and another towards the north, which is still being used to this very day.
Today I want to talk about the rocks I found in Raouche. The seafront promenade is named Avenida Paris but is known as Corniche. This formation of Beirut is made up of a series of arches known as the Pigeon Rocks. Rocks can be viewed from a part of Corniche but you can get closer to one of the lower ones of the cliffs where you can find inlets and caves. They are stuck in the ocean, about 200 feet, and form natural arches, immune to the passage of time and the maelstrom of a city with much movement. I advise you go to see it during the day.
There's nothing I like better than wandering through the streets of Gemmayzeh and just soaking up the atmosphere and unique architecture of the old houses with the classic triple-arcade windows. Visit soon if you can, because many of the older buildings are abandoned and they're planning on tearing some down for a neighborhood rehabilitation plan.
The Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque is one of the symbols of the city of Beirut, and it's also one of the most visited. You can't miss seeing it at night when it's lit up. It's awesome! We couldn't visit it, only the outside I mean, rather than on the outside, so I can't tell you much about it. But it is huge, I think it's more than 10,000 square meters. It has been raised in the image of the Ottoman temples, with the exterior of bright brown clay, typical of classic Lebanese buildings, contrasting with the blue sky domes, flanked by four minarets.
I already talked yesterday about the incredible ruins in Baalbek, and now I will try to describe one by one the places that you can find inside. Today I want to talk about the Temple of Jupiter, of which only six huge columns remain standing. It has shafts which are 2.20 m in diameter and 20 meters high. The temple is overlooking the courtyard and contains the statue of Jupiter. If you stand next to the base of the columns, you will see that you are like an ant next to it, it is an indescribable feeling to see how amazing these old buildings are.
Today it is the turn of the Temple of Bacchus, which is impressive for its size and how nice it is, with the addition that it is fairly well preserved. It dates from approximately 150 BC. Although it is known as the god of wine, the temple was probably dedicated to Mercury, as demonstrated by a frieze at the entrance. It is usually associated with the cult of Bacchus as we can see vine leaves and grapes in their decoration (which relate to Bacchus, the god of wine) with stars with eggs and arrow points (symbolising life and death respectively). To give you an idea it is better than the Parthenon and according to the guide it is the best preserved Roman temple in the world.
The Propylaea formed the entrance to the sacred area of the Temple of Jupiter. They were constructed in the 3rd Century, during the time of Caracalla. They were part of a facade of 12 columns, between two very tall towers, on which a pediment rested. It is most likely that they were built to impress the faithful, and the truth is that when you see the steps with those huge columns at the bottom .. you can´t help but feel impressed!
The last thing you see when you visit Baalbek is the Museum, and the truth is it is very worthwhile, because it shows what the place was like when the temples were still standing. You can also visit areas and statues that have been discovered during different excavations. It's a great way to complete your visit to the ruins which allows you to imagine it in all its glory.
The area of Al-Mina is part of the archaeological ruins of Tyre, which was declared a World Heritage Site in 1984. These ruins are divided into three zones and Al-Mina is one of these zones. It can be found in the extreme southwest of the city. It contains remnants of Greek, Roman and Byzantine periods, including civilian buildings, colonnades, public baths, mosaics on the streets and the rectangular theater. Roman life was organised along a path paved with marble and lined with rows of columns measuring a metre across and eight metres high. This road is 175 m long and leads to the sea. Not far from the shore we see small islands which actually were the water breakers and jetties of the ancient Phoenician port called Egyptian port because it was facing south, towards Egypt. It's a beautiful place, especially since it is by the sea. Imagining what it must have been like in Phoenician times is incredible.
In the centre, just steps from the Square of Martyrs, you will find a maze of narrow streets and small squares. With a variety of alternative shops and popular stores, it is a fascinating place to go around and discover some eccentric fashions and furnitures.
The statue of the martyrs is perhaps the most important symbol of Beirut. It is located in the centre of the square and, following the Civil War and the wars with Israel, it has been completely perforated by shrapnel. It seems that the government has chosen to leave the statue standing, as a symbol of the violence and wars of the past. The statue is composed of four characters: a female figure holds up a torch to the sky while hugging a man. At his feet are two suffering men asking for help. The statue can be seen in the Plaza of the Martyrs, and was sculpted by Italian artist Renato Marino Mazzacurati.
The long promenade frequented by all the people who want to relax in Beirut is known as the Corniche. After visiting any peripheral neighbourhoods of the Lebanese capital, coming here will make you feel like you've entered another country altogether: old and young can be seen, walking in groups or alone along the sidewalk. It can easily be reached by heading towards the sea.
In the centre of Beirut, along with the city's other important religious buildings, the Orthodox Cathedral of St George shouldn't be confused with the Maronite church dedicated to the same saint. It's forbidden to take pictures. There is a nice porch, which adds to the architecture of the building, but once inside you'll be overwhelmed by all the gold. The church has a baroque altar with representations of all the most important saints. The ceiling is decorated with colourful frescoes, and a large lamp painted with more frescoes. It is located within the military-controlled zone ... but don't be afraid, this is normal in Beirut!
Baalbek is a small town of about 25,000 inhabitants, 200 km east of Beirut and north of Damascus. And there we found an archaeological site that was a Phoenician sanctuary dedicated to the god Baal, and has been declared a Patrimonoio Site. It is one of the most important archaeological sites in the Middle East, and is composed of several styles, since it was completed over time. In ancient times it was known as Heliopolis ("sun city"), and went through various stages of artistic influence (Hellenistic, Roman and Islamic). The ruins are now a historical and tourist treasure. There is a legend around the Temple of Jupiter, found there, why it was supposedly the largest Roman temple ever built, and the Terrace of Baalbek. We were told because of its inexplicable construction, many people think it was made by "astronauts" who visited earth millions of years ago. Well, it is still a real human feat, and an amazing place that is worth visiting.
Ouadi Qadisha or Qadisha Valley Lebanon Valley was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in the year 1998. It only Maronite Christian monasteries abound in the Middle East, with amazing scenery. The whole valley is full of caves and shelters, used for thousands of years. The Sacred Valley of Qadisha, land was always alone, and monastic refuge headquarters since the early years of Christianity. Among many Christian groups, the Maronites are the most numerous, but there were Jacobites, and Armenians. We stayed for the night in the town of Bcharre, and early the next day we decided to walk in the valley. The landscapes are amazing, you see greenery on both sides of the mountains on the way down, you see the snowy peaks, crossing streams generated by snowmelt and see the chapels and monasteries which have complex parts installed inside caves. In addition to going through an arc of rock with a waterfall in the middle, we visited the monasteries of Mar Alichaa, Saydet Hawqa Qannoubine and Assi. If you go to Lebanon, don´t miss out on this visit.
The American University of Beirut is one of the most popular places in the city centre, near Hamra Street and the district of the same name. It is frequented by many foreigners who come to study abroad or learn Arabic. The university is open to everyone, and has an extraordinary campus with gardens overlooking the sea, and even a church. You'll have to pass through a security booth to enter, but if you chat with the security guards, they'll let you through to the courtyard as if you were a normal student.
The Capuchin cathedral dedicated to Saint Louis is located in central Beirut, within walking distance of the other buildings that dot the Lebanese capital. Erected in 1863, it is located just minutes from the Al Omari. Here the Latin rites are read for foreigners residing in the city, whether permanently or temporarily, as well as Lebanese Christians, who are mostly Maronites. You can visit the interior of the church, but keep in mind that it's closed on some days.