Lebanon--the 'Hidden' Treasure of the Middle East
By: Pamela Dimitrova/Arab America Contributing Writer
Lebanon is the second smallest country in the Middle East, but certainly one of the most intriguing. For the last three decades, the country on the edge of the Mediterranean is becoming more appealing not only for travel but also for living. Once famous as the “Paris of the East”, here are a few reasons which make this small country the ‘hidden’ treasure of the Middle East… and maybe your future home, too.
Lebanon is home to many different religions and nationalities, and despite the history of conflict, the majority of Lebanese still believe in their capability for peaceful living and acceptance. Over 40 percent of its population belongs to different branches of Christianity, including Protestants, Armenian Apostolic, Greek Orthodox, and Melkite Catholics. Both Muslims and Christians coexist peacefully together and this can be seen not only in the Lebanese daily life but also in the city’s architecture.
Wine has been produced in the country for hundreds of years – The Romans, ever keen to put the grape to party-starting use, were well aware that the Bekaa Valley (which is in the center of Lebanon) was perfect terrain for viticulture. This is still true in 2019.
The road to Baalbek is framed by vineyards, which doors often open to the public for tours and tastings.
Home of ancient civilizations
Due to its location, Lebanon was once of major strategic importance to the Roman Empire and today, several archaeological sites can be found across the country, including the ruins of Baalbek, one of the most important Roman sites outside of the city of Rome.
The Romans were not the only ancient residents. Byblos, a city which sits some 20 miles north of Beirut, was home to the Phoenicians, the ancient people whose influence spread right across North Africa at one point, sprang into life in the 15th century BC. It can claim to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited spots on the planet – estimates suggest its beginnings could have been as early as 8800BC.
Films are one of the things the Lebanese are worldwide famous for. Many local directors participate in international festivals and contests. Nadine Labaki with “Caramel” and “Where Do We Go Now?” and Muriel Abouross with “Stray Bullet” are just a couple the many award-winning Lebanese directors. This culture is alive in Lebanon because people feel the need to spread their stories to the world. Lebanon is full of people with stories yet to be discovered and local directors are making sure they get heard.
The fashion capital of the region
The country produced many designers that reach global fame, some of them being Elie Saab, Reem Acra, and Zuhair Murad. The capital Beirut has the perfect environment in which fashion and design can flourish. Downtown Beirut and its Souks are a hub of luxury shopping in the region, with names like Louis Vuitton, Hermes and Christian Louboutin on display.
It’s not only the city that makes Lebanon such a hub for fashion, but the locals. Trends catch on quickly in this country, and locals are likely to accept them. Lebanese high society is quick to consume fashion goods. The Birkin is prized, and Gucci is a household name. Cultural enrichment and beauty is readily embraced by a lot of the population.
At the crossroads of East and West and blessed with the bounty of the Mediterranean and the fertile crescent, Lebanon’s cuisine blends European techniques with spices and influences from all over the region. You’ll taste spectacular falafels, hummus, tabbouleh, and shwarma, but also myriad new treats like man’oushe, a thin kind of breakfast pizza, and knafeh, a cheese-filled semolina dough soaked in sweet syrup. From simple food stalls in the souks to extravagant spreads in glamorous restaurants, there is a huge range of meal styles; everything will be delicious.
Lebanon is known for its big achievements in the regional music scene, as many world-famous Arabic music artists hail from this country. Today, music in Lebanon is becoming more international, and many singers use English lyrics to widen their audience. Some famous bands are Mashrou’ Leila and Who Killed Bruce Lee. Make sure to seek out those small bands playing in pubs, as you never know how famous their music will become!
Stunning Natural Wonders
Lebanon’s most famous natural wonder, the Jeita Grotto is a defining part of the Lebanese experience. Located in the Nahr Al Kalb valley, it was discovered in 1836 by Reverend William Thomson, an American missionary. Its natural rock limestone formations and mysterious nooks make it a beautiful site to walk through.
Another one of Lebanon’s prized treasures is the Cedars, located in Bsharri, a district in Northern Lebanon. Famous for its legendary cedar trees, the area is a tourist destination as a ski resort in the winter and hiking location in the summer. Close to it is the Baatara Gorge Waterfall – a picturesque rock formation nestled in Northern Lebanon, close to Batroun.
Located between Bcharre and Zgharta, the Kadisha Valley is a UNESCO World Heritage site carved by the Kadisha River. Also known as the Holy Valley, the stretch of land is known for having been a site for worship since the early days of Christianity and has seen human activity since the Paleolithic period.