Beirut: Historical, Beautiful, and Complicated

Beirut is the capital of Lebanon, is its largest seaport on the Mediterranean, and has existed for at least 5,000 years.  The city is well known for its beauty, and was widely regarded as the “Paris of the Middle East” for many years before the Lebanese Civil War.  Today, much of the European architecture that existed before the war is still standing, and the cafe culture that defines both Europe and the Middle East is integral to the experience in Beirut.  The city, despite a complicated past, has been noticeably safer in the last decade.  That said, currently many of the travel warnings that had been absent in recent years have been reissued due to the renewed threats of terrorism.  With the country’s close proximity to Syria, there has been some spillover from the conflict, and Beirut was struck by terrorist bombings last year, after being largely unperturbed by violence.

Even with these unfortunate events, Beirut has largely been spared from having to deal with the violent consequences of the regional conflicts.  Tourism continues to recover since the beginning of the Arab Spring, and the city has become an increasingly popular destination for European tourists especially.  The country has noticeably taken in many Syrian refugees, as have many other countries in the region.  Lebanon, however, is a country of only 4.4 million people, and with over a million registered refugees from Syria currently in the country, tensions may become a problem in the future.  Beirut in particular is no stranger to adversity, and the city has proven to be extremely resilient even during the worst periods of Lebanese history.

Despite the complications, Beirut has consistently been ranked by a number of publications as one of the best cities in the world.  The city has an abundance of culinary destinations, and many tourists revel in Lebanon’s excellent Mediterranean food offerings.  One of the highlights is the famous Lebanese mezze, which is typically a collection of small hot and cold dishes to be shared by a table.  This can range from hummus and stuffed grape leaves, to hot offerings like the meat-filled kobeba dumplings, and the samosa-like fried sambousek; which can be filled with either meat or cheese.  Of course, no Lebanese mezze is complete without tabouleh which is a salad-like offering largely consisting of finely diced tomatoes, parsley, onion, and mint, mixed with bulgur wheat, and seasoned with salt, oil, lemon juice, and garlic.  Of course, other Middle Eastern standards are offered as well, such as shawarma and falafel, however, one of the best entrees to have is Lebanese fateh, which consists of chicken in a filling white sauce, served over bread and rice.

Beirut has a number of beautiful beaches, and tourists can easily enjoy cafe time by the sea.  Beirut’s downtown is constantly being built up and is home to a large amount of shops and restaurants.  Of course, Beirut is also well known for its nightlife, and many nightclubs and bars can be found in the city.  The country itself makes a number of wines, and the standard beer to be found is Almaza, which is a Pilsner produced domestically, but owned by Heineken.  The other domestically produced spirit that is famous in the region is Arak, which is an aniseed flavored liquor similar to Greek ouzo or Turkish raki.

While Beirut has seen its share of adversity in the last few decades, the city remains one of the most resilient and fascinating in the region.  While there are threats in the area, some real, and some more nebulous, tourists should not be discouraged from visiting this beautiful and dynamic city.


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