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Lebanon Map and Description

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For much of the 20th century, Lebanon held the undisputed title of financial and commercial center of the Middle East. Beirut, its capital, was widely acclaimed as the Paris of the East. Visitors loved the small nation, totaling only 4,035 square miles, both for its unparalleled historic sites and for the sophistication and fine dining found in the capital.

Beginning in the mid-'70s, however, a disastrous civil war, kidnappings and skirmishes between Israel and Lebanon-based Palestinians created a different set of images. After the civil war ended in 1992, the nation set out to rebuild its shattered infrastructure and to re-establish its position in the region.

Tourism was not neglected. Hotels reopened, travel agencies created intriguing itineraries and gradually, tourists returned. In July 1997, the U.S. government allowed its travel ban to expire (an advisory remains in effect) and by the next spring, U.S. tour operators began introducing a new generation of Americans to this fascinating country. Even before the ban was lifted, many travelers were visiting the ancient ruins of Baalbek on day excursions from Damascus, Syria.

In a nation boasting numerous historic sites, Baalbek tops most visitors' lists. Situated in the Bekaa Valley, it was dedicated to Baal, the Phoenician god of rain and sun. During the period of Roman rule, Alexander the Great, Pompey, Julius Caesar, Hadrian and Caracalla all had a hand at restoring Baalbek's temples, which dated to the 2nd millennium B.C., and building new ones. In 748 the Arabs came and in 1400, the Mongol chieftain, Tamerlane. 

Today's invaders carry cameras and notebooks as they gaze up at the six remaining 92-foot columns (there once were 54) of the Temple of Jupiter and examine details of the Temple of Baccus, considered by some experts to be the most beautifully decorated temple in the Roman world. Courtyards, sculptures, the circular Temple of Venus with its fluted columns, and the quarry where the massive building stones were obtained also can be explored. During July and August, festivals are held at the ruins.

Leaving Baalbek, groups typically head for a present day temple of Baccus, the Ksara wine caves. After exploring labyrinthine tunnels lined with oaken kegs, visitors sample wines and watch a well-produced video which intermingles ancient history with facts about modern wine production.

Also in the Bekaa Valley, the evocative remains of eighth century Aanjar stand in contrast to the grandiosity of Baalbek. Once the summer home of a Umayyad caliph, Aanjar was a city of graceful stone arches and soft-toned tiers of brick. Only hints remain of the palaces, baths, mosques, dwellings and 600 shops which once stood within its fortification walls. Aanjar survived just 50 years and was only excavated in the 1960s.

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