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Published: July 25th 2010
We'd decided to do the Lebanon side trip with a 'Why not?' kind of attitude. Already so close, it seemed like it would be a shame not to. We therefore had little knowledge nor expectation of what we'd make of Lebanon. Setting out at the crack of dawn that morning for the drive to the historical sight of Baalbek, our lack of expectation made to the delight of Baalbek all the more astounding. We knew we'd be seeing 'some ruins' at the sight. But oh my! This sight made so many of the other Roman ruins we've seen pale in comparison to the splendour and magnificence on display. It was THAT good. I'd thought I'd seen a lot to this point but apparently not. Baalbek’s temples were simply awesome. There are no other words to describe them. I kept shaking my head in wonderment. This overland adventure just seems to get better and better. Having just come from one amazing highlight in Petra, here I was again, completely gob smacked by the sheer scale and enormity, the refined beauty, of this site. Stunning.
Our morning visit to the ruins was followed by a truly fabulous lunch in a restaurant overlooking
the ruins and an afternoon in the rapidly developing Beirut. I have to say the drive from the ancient Baalbek to the heart of the capital Beirut threw up some interesting surprises on the way. One which shocked me was the Hezbollah advertisements that adorned roadsides that we passed, as well the heavily armed forces still present. Other things like the fertility rock that we stopped to admire briefly (and admittedly I had to touch it no matter how implausible the legend seemed) were more welcome surprises, as was the initial impression of Beirut given by the stunning esplanade and the modern cityscape stretching forwards. I had no expectations prior to our arrival in Beirut but as a child and teenager, I grew up hearing the stories of conflict in this region and so expected signs of this to remain. Undoubtedly, there are still traces of the civil war in Beirut. Landmarks such as the Holiday Inn Hotel which had opened a week before the internal conflict began and now stands, entirely blown out, still adorn the cityscape. Wandering around the city centre, I couldn't help but wonder if the city planners had successfully decided what to do with such
structures. These sites must serve as a painful reminder of difficult days past and a scar on the face a city that is trying to reinvent itself once more. But equally such sights are an important part of the history of the city. How does one reconcile the old painful past with the new city being reborn?
However, despite the reminders of the past, what is most evident in this city is the rapid redevelopment underway. On every block of Beirut's city streets there are new constructions underway. Major projects to create fancy hotels or apartment blocks or elegant shopping promenades and arcades...its all happening here. One could almost smell the money in the air as the major international brand names had their logos stamped across 'coming soon' banners, or indeed had already opened in the now exclusive city centre shopping district. I couldn't help but wonder if Beirut’s ordinary citizens are still able to afford life in this city now, and the life that will be in the years to come? It seems very much a city not being developed for it's own people, but rather a city deliberately being created to be a major international, cosmopolitan centre.
Despite such concerns, we still observed locals making use of the city's many public spaces, walking along the esplanade and sitting on benches overlooking the sea. There were children everywhere playing and parents nearby observing whilst chatting with friends met along the way. And in the very centre of the city, the most prominent mosque was neighboured by a Christian Cathedral, with persons of both faiths crossing paths on their way to worship.
Our afternoon here clearly illustrated to us that Lebanon's modern cities like Beirut are well on the way to finding their feet again while it's ancient wonders like Baalbek are ever more prized by its proud citizen’s. And rightfully so, for it is indeed a prize to be coveted. The 'land of yoghurt' (the literal translation of 'Lebanon') delivered far more than we could've ever hoped to see and thankfully our 'why not?' attitude could only be answered with an emphatic 'yes please!' by the day’s end.
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