Great Serallo is one of the most impressive monuments in Beirut, both in terms of importance and grandeur. It is located in the city centre in a slightly elevated position, so it appears to be dominating the rest of Beirut. Surrounded by armed soldiers, the construction dates back to the late nineteenth century and is open to visitors, although it is one of the things that we missed on this trip. To get there, you'll have to go to Al Omari, then turn left a few hundred metres past the building.
Located in the city centre, where access is controlled by the army, the Al Omari mosque can be visited by anyone, but women must cover themselves. The entrance is very welcoming, with the interior divided into aisles, marked by stone columns. The floor has a red carpet with gold bands. This mosque was originally a church built by the Crusaders in 1300, and dedicated to Saint John the Baptist. When the Mamelukes conquered Beirut, this wonder of stone became a mosque and luckily over the years, has retained its grandeur!
The Armenian population of Beirut resides mainly in the neighbourhood of Bourj Hammound, but this huge white-fronted church, built by the Armenian community, is located in the city centre, a short walk from the Maronite Cathedral of St George. The front door of the church of St. Nshan, St. Gregory in English, is decorated with gold, and there's a spacious interior with a mosaic of the crucifixion displayed on the altar. The church is topped by a large dome, and decorated at its four corners with mosaics that I think are supposed to represent the four apostles. The building is lit by two large stained glass windows. The church seemed to me like it was either recently built or recently renovated because it is really well preserved!
This is the oldest and most prestigious part of Beirut, where you can still see one part of the old roman colonnade in the centre of the city, shortly after the Maronite Church of St. George. Recently restored, it's hard to see these ruins and imagine the beauty of the Roman site that once stood here. You can walk around it to get different perspectives.
Lebanese history is marked by conflict since its beginning. One of the places you can visit in the capital, Beirut, and learn about a horrible past, is known as the Green Line. This is one of the main streets of the city.. For years this street meant more than that. It was the border between the 2 areas in which the city was divided between the years 1975 and 1990. The Muslim and Christian. Just this great avenue was in no man's land and crossing it meant death. Guarded 24 hours a day by soldiers on both sides, no one set foot across it. This was the reason it started to grow thin grass that transformed the streets of this color: hence its name. Today hundreds of cars invade the area and the sound of horns and pollution are present. But so are the scars of those horrible times, and can be found continuously half destroyed buildings where shrapnel signs remind each of the horror of a past war.
Between the centre and the maritime area, you'll find yourself in the district of Hamra, one of the richest parts of the capital. Here you can see the University and the American Public Gardens Sanayeh. Hamra is notable for the presence of western and local coffee chains like Starbucks, and the fast food. To get there, take a taxi or the number 4 bus. Okay, it's not the most authentic part of the city, but it's definitely worth spending some time.
The permanent funfair of Beirut is located on the Corniche in the Manara district. As you walk through the marina, you'll notice the ferris wheel, standing out above all the other attractions. At the entrance you can pick up some popcorn, then enjoy some of the rides, like bumper cars ... a go on the ferris wheel costs 1 euro per person, and it's not too crowded. If the operator is a good mood, you can revolve as many times as you like - we had to ask him to stop the wheel to let us off!
Following the bloody civil wars and attacks on Israel that ravaged Lebanon until the year 2005, the Jewish community of Beirut, one of the most flourishing in the Middle East, has been reduced to a few members who seem to live mostly in anonymity today. The Magen Abraham synagogue, the spiritual home of practicing Beirut Jews, was severely damaged during the war, but in recent years it has been gradually restored, and on the main facade is the star of David, the symbol of the religion. In the past, there were more than 20,000 Jews living in Beirut, but now there are barely 100. Photos are strictly forbidden, and the military were watching to prevent me from taking them.
The wild valley of Bekaa runs for many kilometers along the Lebanese border with Syria to the northeast. The main centre of the valley is the town of Zahle, though Baalbek is best-known for its archaeological site, which is a must if you're in the area. The valley is in the northern part of the Rift Valley, the deep rift that goes down into Africa. There are vines here that produce good wines, and even hashish and opium poppies that are exported illegally. There are two rivers, the Orontes and Litani.
One of the most fascinating parts of Lebanon is located near the northeastern border with Syria in the Bekaa Valley. Made famous by unpleasant episodes linked to Hezbollah, here you'll find a Palestinian camp, a mosque, and a majestic Roman archaeological site ... all at an altitude of about 1070 meters, not bad right? Baalbek can be visited in a day from Beirut and can be reached by collective bus (about 2.5 € per person) or a taxi, but in this case it will cost you much more! If you have time, walk to the centre which is very pleasant, full of shops, cafes and even hotels. The centre is located near the temples.
This castle is located on the road leading to Beit ed Dine, and is the part of the Chouf - the area of the cedars - with the most beautiful view. Behind it, the mountains of Lebanon are whitened by the snow, and under the castle you can see all the hills and valleys of the region. The castle, not to be confused with the palace of Beit ed Dine, is located in front of the town. Today it is open, with an entry fee, and is well worth visiting for the spectacular sunset!