Once considered as a finalist for the “7 Natural Wonders of the World”, Lebanon’s Jeita Grotto is a sprawling cave complex located 11 miles (17.7 kms) north of the capital city of Beirut. The caves are divided into two separate grottos the upper and the lower grottos. The White Chamber in the upper grotto famously boasts the world’s largest stalactite, which hangs down 27 ft. from the cavern ceiling above. Accessible via a specially built walkway, the upper grotto reaches a dramatic terminus when the third chamber rises to an astounding height of 390 ft. A hollow chamber which gazes into the innards of the Earth, Jeita Grotto easily ranks as one of the top cave complexes on the planet.
Though evidence suggests that Jeita Grotto was once inhabited during ancient times, the gaping caverns were only rediscovered in 1863 after an American missionary stumbled upon the lower grotto.
Set 53 miles (85 kms) outside of Beirut in the fertile Beqaa Valley, the ancient city of Baalbek is inarguably Lebanon’s greatest Roman treasure. An architectural pinnacle of empire known to the Romans as Heliopolis, this UNESCO World Heritage site has served as a center of worship for a staggering number of millennia.
Civilizations as old as the Phoenicians worshiped here and themselves built massive stone structures to “Baal”, revered Phoenician deity and possible subject for the town’s name of Baalbek. With the arrival of the Romans in 64 BC, Baalbek was converted to a pagan center of worship and work was begun on the massive Temple of Jupiter, a hulking structure of granite columns which would eventually become the largest temple ever built in the history of the Roman Empire. While many of the columns have crumbled and eight were even relocated to the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, six columns still remain standing and provide a relevant framework.
Set 36 miles (58 km) outside the capital city of Beirut, the ancient city of Anjar is literally a Lebanon attraction unlike any other. While many of the ruins in Lebanon existed under a multitude of rulers, the fortified city of Anjar was occupied solely by the Umayyad dynasty during the 8th century AD when it flourished for a mere number of decades. This city's Opulent rulers eventually fell to the Abbasids, but at one point their influence stretched from the valleys of India to the shores of southern France. With the exception of a mosque in nearby Baalbek, Anjar is the only place in Lebanon which provides an example of the Umayyad period.
Located in the fertile Beqaa valley amid the Anti-Lebanon mountains and along a prosperous trade route between Beirut and Damascus, Anjar made a perfect summer retreat for the ruling dynasty.
Only two and half hours from the glitzy beaches of Beirut, the cedar groves of Lebanon are the pride of the Lebanese mountains. Northern Lebanon has some of the tallest peaks in the Middle East, some rising to over 10,000 feet, many of which used to be covered in dense forests of precious cedar.
From as early as 3,000 BC the surrounding civilizations of Egypt, Mesopotamia, and later the British lusted for the hard wood found in the forests of Lebanon. Unable to provide wood of their own for shipbuilding and railroad ties, the cedar forests of Lebanon were rapidly depleted and nearly destroyed.
Despite the international demand, however, some of the most remote groves managed to remain, the most famous of which is located in the village of Bsharre just 15 minutes from Lebanon’s most popular ski resort. Believed to be the oldest cedar grove in Lebanon, four of the largest cedars reach heights of over 115 feet and are locally referred to as Arz el Rab.
Chic, sexy and ultra-modern, downtown Beirut can once again be considered the “pearl of the Middle East”. A booming coastal metropolis in the midst of an economic revival, a city once divided by 15 years of civil war is now home to high end stores, trendy restaurants, and a modern population living among thousands of years of history.
Travelers to Beirut can relish in the simple pleasure of sipping a thick coffee at an outdoor café or people watching along the Corniche, a three-mile coastal promenade where bullet holes still riddle the well-manicured palm trees. Visitors can similarly amble along the newly constructed Zaitunay Bay esplanade where private yachts moored offshore bear witness to Beirut’s surging wealth.
Though Beirut has no shortage of easy transport, travelers can take pleasure in strolling in the pedestrian mall around Nejmeh Square and gawk at the masterfully planned architecture.
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