I made a number of friends during my month in Beirut. One sunny afternoon, one friend Ziad and I took a drive to the ancient city of Byblos, north of Beirut. Part of what makes Lebanon so interesting is its placement as a seat for some of the most important empires in history. Byblos is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world (since 5,000 BCE) with remains dating back to the Neolithic Era, and was once a part of the Egyptian, Phoenician, Roman, and Ottoman Empires.
Headed north out of Beirut, Mount Lebanon in the distance:
Ancient Roman ruins in downtown Byblos:
Main Street of the Old Souk:
Ruins of the Byblos Citadel:
Outside and inside a small, old, local mosque:
Street in old town area of Byblos:
Brave (and adorable) sentinels standing guard:
The cars kind of ruin the atmosphere of the historical port….
In my final days of my first trip to Lebanon, I rented a car and drove out to the countryside. First stop: Faraya, where you can go skiing in the morning before returning to Beirut to go to the beach in the afternoon!
Then there was Harissa, with the enormous statue of Our Lady of Lebanon gazing over the land and giving her blessings to the people… or something like that (statue not shown, sorry!):
Next, I headed north to the mountains and to see the famous Cedar Forest of the Gods, which has been growing for 2,000 years!
I climbed over a locked gate to try and enter the actual forest. Every step I took left me sinking into the snow up to my knee or thigh. After struggling for a couple of meters, I said “Nope!” and headed back to my car. But at least I got to see this charming shrine/chapel right outside the forest….
And the drive to the area had some stunning views!
The town of Bsharri is a charming weekend getaway perched above the dramatic Qadisha Gorge:
I stumbled across an old monastery with some crypts:
Finally, I headed south of Beirut to see Moussa Castle. One story I heard (take it with a grain of salt) was that years ago, a man — Moussa Abdel Karim al Maamari — had proposed to a woman whom he loved, but she declined the offer because he was too poor. So he dedicated his life to building a castle for her to prove that he was worthy. When the castle was completed, he proposed again, and this time she accepted. However, he had built the women’s entranceway just slightly less than her height, so every time she entered, she was forced to bow her head — a reminder that she should remain humble and submissive to her new husband.
Western wing of the castle/main entrance, eastern wing, courtyard, and view from beside the castle, respectively:
Upon Moussa’s death, his life’s work was turned into a museum depicting scenes of traditional life in Lebanon:
All around the country are small villages with buildings of sandstone, such as Deir el Qamar:
So that’s my month+ in Lebanon. The country captured my heart and soul and left me changed in ways I can’t explicitly articulate. I learned so much and made connections with people who opened my eyes to a different life. I attended a drag show in which security placed tape over the lens of your camera/camera phone to protect the identities of the performers. I had conversations with people with family and friends in neighboring Syria, who shared stories with me of what it’s really like there, as the war against Assad is starting to wind down. I cried my eyes out over the award-winning film Capharnaum, by Lebanese director Nadine Labaki, and discussed the implied classism in its portrayal of the extremely poor in Beirut. I saw the frustration bordering on hopelessness that people have with the current government, which basically didn’t exist while I was there (elections were held 9 months prior, but no Cabinet was assembled nor ministers appointed. To call a rescue ambulance in an emergency, people dial the number for the International Red Cross because there’s no infrastructure for welfare or social support). I became addicted to the creamy tang of the strained cheese labneh and gorged myself on decadent sweets like these:
I’ll leave you with a love song to Beirut sung by the classic Lebanese singer Fairuz: Le Beirut.
I know in my soul that, even though I have no idea when I’ll be back in that part of the world again, Lebanon and I somehow aren’t finished with each other yet.