Beirut - chameleon of many faces


Battered and bruised she may be, but Beirut refuses to lie down and play dead. This capital is a chameleon of many faces where trendy bars and glitzy restaurants sit side by side with bullet-ridden and gutted building shells; where the polish and sparkle of the new Downtown district, complete with designer-clad and botoxed shoppers, sits in stark contrast to the Dahiya – the sprawling working-class suburbs which make up the southern section of the city. Beirut, still wearing the scars of war on its sleeve, is the Arab world at its most cosmopolitan and is a proud emblem for Lebanon’s remarkable recovery and survival after years of turmoil.


Although much of Beirut’s rich history has been obliterated by a succession of natural disasters, invasion and war, there are still vestiges of the past to be found. Peel back the flashy exterior and peeping out from the shadows of the high rises you’ll find sedately beautiful and crumbling neo-Ottoman buildings that have, as yet, escaped the developer’s demolition ball. The National Museum, although small, is an excellent showcase of Lebanon’s antiquities, and among Downtown’s pristine streets small pockets of Roman era ruins, unearthed during the post-civil war development, have been preserved, giving visitors a taste of Beirut’s importance throughout the ages.


Lebanon’s compact size means that visitors on all but the quickest of trips can discover the country’s major sights on daytrips from the capital. The natural splendour of Jeita Grotto’s and the ancient Phoenician port of Byblos lie just north of Beirut. While heading inland, through the spectacular scenery of the mighty Lebanon mountain range, brings you to the vast tumbled temples of Baalbek; one of the world’s most spectacular Roman ruins.

Our Beirut Focus Guide, by Jess Lee, is available now.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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