Major cities


Lebanon has always been a special country. Despite the recent years of war, Lebanon’s long history, natural beauty and the spirit of its people give it a place in the hearts of all who have been there, whether in the halcyon years, or during periods of crisis.

With its legendary hospitality, natural and touristic sites and its delicious food, today more than ever, Lebanon is a unique place to visit.

An independent republic since 1943, it is a compact country of 10,452 square kilometers with a population approaching 4 million.

Lebanon is located at the meeting point of three continents, and over the centuries it has been the crossroads of many civilizations whose traces may still be seen today. Its countryside is a place of rocks, cedar trees and magnificent ruins that look down from the mountains to the sea. In winter the high peaks are covered with snow and in summer their limestone slopes glimmer white in the distance. Two rocky ranges traverse Lebanon parallel to the sea coast, separtatd by the high plateau of the Beqaa valley.

On the coast are the five famous cities of Beirut, Byblos, Sidon, Tripoli and Tyre, the names of ancient Phoenicia. In the Beqaa valley are two major cities: Baalbeck and Zahle.


Beirut, the Lebanese capital, or Berytus as it was called in the first century B.C and appeared in cuneiform inscriptions as early as the 14th century B.C., was built on a rocky promontory, a site also occupied by prehistoric man. In ancient times it was overshadowed by more powerful neighbours, but when the city-states of Sidon and Tyre began to decline in the first millennium B.C., Beirut acquired more influence. It was not until Roman times, when it became a Roman colony in about 15 B.C., that Beirut became an important port and cultural center. During the Roman and Byzantine eras it was distinguished for its Law school, whose professors helped draft the famous Justinian Code.

Beirut was destroyed by a devastating earthquake in 551 A.D. A century later it was occupied by the Moslem armies and in 1109 it fell to the Crusaders. The city remained in Crusader hands until 1291, when it was conquered by the Mamlukes.

In 1515 the 400-year Ottoman rule began. Later, in the 17th century, Beirut knew a period of great prosperity under the government of Emir Fakhreddine II. Then, with the break-up of the Ottoman empire at the end of World War I, the city became the capital of modern Lebanon.

A city continuously inhabited for millennia, until recently most of the few archaelogical discoveries in Beirut were accidental. However the war’s end in 1991 provided opportunity for more comprehensie and scientific investigation.

Beneath the ruined downtown area, which was reconstructed, lie the remains of Ottoman, Mamluke, Crusader, Abbassid, Omayyad, Byzantine, Roman, Persian, Phoenician and Canaanite Beirut. A good portion of Beirut’s history was uncovered before reconstruction was completed.

Beginning in 1993, archaeological teams from Lebanese and foreign institutions have found significant remains from each of Beirut’s historical periods. All discoveries were carefully recorded and preserved.


Modern Beirut, with its million plus inhabitants, remains the cultural and commercial center of the country. It conveys a sense of life and energy that is immediately apparent. This dynamism is echoed by the Capital’s geographical position: a great promonotory jutting into the blue sea with dramatic mountains rising behind it. A city with a venerable past, 5000 years ago Beirut was a prosperous town on the Canaanite and Phoenician coast.

Beirut survived a decade and a half of conflict and so has earned the right to call itself "the City that would not die". The ruined City Center was largly reconstructed to create a new commercial and residential district for the 21st century while retaining and preserving its heritage buildings.

Commerce is second nature to Beirutis, who long ago discovered that their port city on the East-West crossroads was ideally placed for trading and business of all kinds. A banking center with free currency exchange, the chief employment here is in trade, banking, construction, import-export and service industries.

Beirut enjoys a vigorous press that publishes in Arabic, English, French and Armenian. Several Universities including five major ones help keep ideas and innovations flowing. The flourishing art scene, including theater, film making, music and plastic arts adds to the sense that is indeed a city on the move.

Its many advantages also make Beirut a natural venue for international, regional and local conferences and conventions.

Beirut’s Port, the largest in the eastern Mediterranean, is equipped to handle tens of freight and passenger vessels.

Beirut Rafic Hariri International Airport (B.R.H.I.A) is a vital facility that plays a major role in linking Lebanon with the outside world and enriches the business and touristic sectors of the economy. RHIAB is located in the Khaldeh suburb south of the capital and around 8kms distant from Beirut downtown. It was opened in 1954 and is the only civil airport in the country. The old airport was renovated in 1977, and the present runways were rehabilitated between 1982 and 1984. The Israeli invasion of 1982 caused considerable damage to most sections of the old terminal building.

The execution of the first phase of the new airport started in 1994 and was inaugurated in 1998. However, the second phase was inaugurated on the fifth of July 2000 and the operation started on the sixth of June 2002. RHIAB has been redeveloped to handle 6 million passengers per year and to receive 30 aircrafts at the same time. It has 84 passenger counters, 21 passenger gates, and the parking area has a capacity of 2250 cars. Future development plans aim at handling 16 million passengers by the year 2035.

Beirut Airport

ImageAriel View of Beirut’s Rafic Hariri International Airport.

BYBLOS (Jbail)

Byblos or Jbail in Arabic is one of the oldest continuously inhabited towns in the world, goes back at least 7,000 years. According to Phoenician tradition it was founded by the god El, and even the Phoenicians considered it a city of great antiquity. The rise and fall of nearly two dozen successive levels of human culture on this site makes it one of the richest archaeological areas in the country.

Under the domination of the Egyptian pharaohs in the 3rd and 2nd millennia B.c>, Byblos was the commercial and religious capital of the Phoenician coast. It was here that the first linear alphabet, ancestor of all modern alphabets (through Greek and Latin), was invented. The sarcophagus of Byblos’ King Ahiram, now in the National Museum, bears the oldest known Phoenician inscription. Byblos was also the center of the Adonis cult, the god of vegetation who dies in winter and is renewed each spring.

Like its sister cities, Byblos was destroyed in the earthquake of 551 A.D., It regained sone consequence in Crusader times when it came under the County of Tripoli. A modest town under the Mamlukes and Ottomans, Byblos grew rapidly during the recent war in Lebanon when commercial activities moved from Beirut to regional capitals.

The busy modern town, 36 kilometers north of Beirut, has as its touristic hub the Roman-medieval port. In this area are the Crusader Castle and church as well as the extensive remains of the city’s past--from the Neolithic times to the Crusader era. A number of cafes and restaurants as well as an interesting wax museum add to the attractions.

TRIPOLI (Trablos)

Tripoli or Trablos in Arabic is some 85 km north of Beirut, shares in the long history of the Levantine coast. The center of a Phgoenician confederation with Sidon, Tyre and Arados Island, its name “Tripolis,” means “triple city.”

Since its foundation, probably in the 9th century B.C., until the end of the Crusader period, Tripoli was situated around the Al-Mina port district. After its destruction by the Mamlukes in 1289, however, it was replaced by a new town near the hill of the Crusader Castle of Raymond de Saint-Gilles, founder of the County of Tripoli. The castle has been renovated and changed may times during its history, most recently in the early 19th century.

Tripoli is a veritable living museum, preserving nearly a hundred important monuments from Crusader, Mamluke and Ottoman times. Distinguished remnants of the Mamluke period include the Great Mosque and the Mosque of Taynal, built with elements from ancient and Crusader monuments, Islamic religious schools known as madrasas, the ancient bazaars, towers, khans (caravansaries) and hammams (baths) add oriental charm to the modern city. Today Tripoli is a prosperous industrial and business center. Known as the capital of the north, it is the second largest city in Lebanon.

SIDON (Saida)

Sidon or Saida in Arabic is the third great Phoenician city-state, Sidon’s origins are lost in time. But it was towards the end of the 6th century B.C., under the reign of the Persian Darius, that the city experienced its golden age.

Made capital of the Fifth Province of the Persian Empire, Sidon was an open city with many cultural influences, including the Egyptian and Greek. During this period Aegean sculptors contributed to the nearby temple of Eshmoun. Eshmoun, the city’s god, was associated with the Greek Aesculapius, the god of healing.

After its revolt against the Persians and its destruction in 351 B.C., Sidon never regained its former glory. But the city’s position had improved by 551 A.D., when after the disastrous earthquake of that year it was chosen as the site of the Beirut law school.

The Crusader period, between 1110 and 1291, brought Sidon new prestige as the second of the four baronies of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Today the ruins of the Crusader sea castle and the Castle of Saint-Louis, known as the land castle, can still be seen in Sidon.

From the Mamluke and Ottoman periods we have the Great Mosque, built on the foundations of a Crusader church and the Khan “el-Franj” built by Fakhreddine. Today the town, 41 kilometers from Beiru, has grown into a thriving commercial and business center serving the entire region

TYRE (Sour)

Although the exact origins of Tyre or Sour in Arabic are unknown, ancient historians say it goes back to the start of the 3rd millennium B.c. Originally a mainland settlement with an island city a short distance offshore, it came of age in the 10th century B.C. when King Hiram expanded the mainland and built two ports and a temple to Melkart, the city’s god.

Its flourishing maritime trade, its Mediterranean and Atlantic colonies and its purple dye and glass industries made Tyre very powerful and wealthy. But the city’s wealth attracted enemies. In the sixth century B.C. the Tyrians successfully defied Nebuchadnezzar for 13 years. Alexander the Great laid siege to it for 7 months, finally overwhelming the island city by constructing a great causeway from the shore to the island.

In their day the Romans built a magnificent city at Tyre. The remains of its Roman streets, arcades and public buildings, including one of the largest hippodromes of the period, are Tyre’s major attractions today.

Occupied by Moslem armies in 636, then in 1124 by the Crusaders, Tyre was an important fortification of the kingdom of Jerusalem. In 1291 the Mamlukes took the city then during the 400-year Ottoman period beginning in 1515, it remained a quiet fishing town.

In 1979 Tyre’s important archaeological remains prompted UNESCO to make the town a world heritage sites. Located 79 km from Beirut, prosperous Tyre is notable for its ma;y high-rise buildings. Nevertheless, the inner city has retained its industrious maritime character and its interesting old-style houses.