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Looking Beyond Lebanon’s War-Torn Past

American travelers will find unrivaled beauty and a boggling history in little Lebanon

To see some of the best preserved Roman Ruins in Lebanon, head to Baalbek, where Corinthian columns, temples, and other stone relics exist as they did 9000 years ago.
For a country that’s suffered more than its fair share of natural disasters, political assassinations, and civil wars, the past isn’t always fondly remembered; however, it’s precisely Lebanon’s history that keeps it on the travel map. And, despite its small size, the country boasts five UNESCO World Heritage sites, all within an hour of Beirut. The robust capital city itself lures plenty of visitors too, with attractions that run the seasonal gamut–from beaches to ski resorts to award-winning wineries.

Contrasting with Beirut’s modernity is the port city of Byblos, founded in 5000 B.C. and believed to be the world’s oldest continually-inhabited city. Meaning “inscription” or “bible,” Byblos’ almost unfathomable past is evident by ruins dating back to Phoenician, Roman, and Crusader times. The city still claims a population of 40,000 who appreciate the sandy beaches and seaside dining as much as tourists do.

The ancient Phoenician city of Tyre, fifty miles south of Beirut, prospers with souks (open-air marketplaces), lovely Mediterranean vistas, and the Sidon Sea Castle, a fortress built by the Crusaders in 1228 A.D. and reputed to be an architectural favorite of Alexander the Great’s.

Natural attractions in Lebanon include one of the recently named New Seven Wonders of Nature, the Jeita Grotto. A mere eleven miles from Beirut are these limestone caves that have stood as such for more than millions of years. The 1,000-foot upper cave can be explored by foot, while the lower cave requires a gondola ride. Another must-see is Ouadi Qadisha, or the Holy Valley, an early Christian monastic settlement which sits amidst the Forest of the Cedars of God, and where a sense of higher being can most definitely be felt.

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