- For the drinking game "Beirut", see Beer Pong.
Beirut (Arabic بيروت - the French name, Beyrouth, was also commonly used in English in the past) is the capital, largest city and chief seaport of Lebanon.
Beirut is the home of about 1.8 million people (2.1 million if the surrounding metropolitan areas are included), and is the commercial, banking and financial center of the region. The city is set to host the Winter Asian Games and Jeux de la Francophonie (Francophonie Games) in 2009.
Beirut is one of the most diverse cities of the Middle East, as it is shared by Christians (Maronites, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Armenian Catholics, Roman Catholic, and Protestants), and Muslims (Sunni and Shi'ite) as well as a minority of Druze. Most of the Jews of Beirut emigrated to the USA when the Lebanese Civil War started in 1975 and now predominantly live in Brooklyn, New York. Beirut was torn apart during the Lebanese Civil War and was divided between the Muslim West Beirut and the Christian East.
Colleges and Universities
In Beirut there are twenty-one universities including the American University of Beirut, Lebanese American University (originally the first women's college in the Middle East), Université de Saint-Joseph, Hagazian University , Lebanese University, American University College of Science and Technology , and Beirut Arab University.
Backed by the Mount Lebanon mountains, Beirut is situated on a spur where the narrow coastal plain projects into the Mediterranean Sea.
The city is home to Beirut International Airport.
Before the war Beirut was a popular international tourist destination dubbed the Paris of the Middle East, with many international hotels and a thriving nightlife. In recent years the city has started to rebuild its tourist industry, with major construction and restoration works in progress in the ruined city centre, and a new marina. While the rest of the country is generally more conservative, Western dress, including shorts and short skirts, has become acceptable in Beirut, except in religious buildings.
In addition to the city itself, a number of archeological sites are within reach, including Baalbek and Byblos, which claims to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world. In winter, skiing is possible in the mountains at resorts such as Faraya Mzaar Kfardebian.
Originally named Beroth, ("city of wells"), by the Phoenicians, the first historical reference to Beirut dates from the 15th century BCE, when it is mentioned in a cuneiform tablet that is one of the "Amarna letters." The most ancient settlement was on an island in the river that progressively silted up. The city was known in antiquity as Berytus; this name was taken in 1934 for the archaeological journal published by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at the American University of Beirut.
In 140 BCE, the city was taken and destroyed by Diodotus Tryphon in his contest with Antiochus VII Sidetes for the throne of the Seleucid monarchy. Beirut was soon rebuilt on a more regularized Hellenistic plan, renamed Laodicea in Canaan, in honor of a Seleucid queen. The modern city overlies the ancient one and little archaeology had been accomplished until after the end of the civil war in 1991; now large sites in the devastated city center have been opened to archaeological exploration. A dig in 1994 established that one of Beirut's modern streets, Souk Tawile, still follows the lines of an ancient Hellenistic/Roman one.
Mid-1st century BCE coins of Berytus bear the head of Tyche, goddess of fortune; on the reverse, the city's symbol appears: a dolphin entwines an anchor. This symbol was taken up by the early printer Aldus Manutius in 15th century Venice.
Under the Romans it was enriched by the dynasty of Herod, then made a colonia in the late 1st century CE. Beirut's school of law was widely known at the time. Two of Rome's most famous jurists, Papinian and Ulpian, both natives of Phoenicia, taught at the law school under the Severan emperors. When Justinian assembled his Pandects in the 6th century, a large part of the corpus of laws were derived from these two jurists, and Justinian recognized the school as one of the three official law schools of the empire (533 CE). Within a few years, as the result of a disastrous earthquake (551), the students were transferred to Sidon.
Beirut passed to the Arabs in 635. As a trading centre of the eastern Mediterranean Beirut was overshadowed by Akko during the Middle Ages. From 1110 to 1291 it was in the hands of Crusader lords. No matter who was its nominal overlord, whether Turk or Mamluk, Beirut was ruled locally by Druze emirs. One of these, Fakr ed-Din Maan II , fortified it early in the 17th century, but the Ottomans retook it in 1763 and thenceforth, with the help of Damascus, Beirut successfully broke Akko's monopoly on Syrian maritime trade and for a few years supplanted it as the main trading centre in the region. During the succeeding epoch of rebellion against Ottoman hegemony at Akko under Jezzar and Abdullah pashas, Beirut declined to a small town (population about 10,000), fought over among the Druze, the Turks and the pashas. After Ibrahim Pasha captured Akko in 1832, Beirut began its early modern revival. In 1888 Beirut was made capital of a vilayet in Syria, including the sanjaks Latakia, Tripoli, Beirut, Akko and Bekaa. Beirut became a very cosmopolitan city and had close links with Europe and the United States. Beirut became a centre of missionary activity, which was generally very unsuccessful in conversions (a massacre of Christians in 1860 was the occasion for further European interventions), but did build an impressive education system. This include the Syrian Protestant College, which was established by American missionaries and eventually became the American University of Beirut (AUB). Beirut became the centre of Arab intellectual activity in the nineteenth century. Provided with water from a British company and gas from a French one, the city thrived on exporting silk grown on nearby Mount Lebanon. After French engineers established a modern harbor (1894) and a rail link across Lebanon to Damascus, and then to Aleppo (1907), much of the trade was carried by French ships to Marseille, and soon French influence in the area exceeded that of any other European power. In 1911 the population mix was reported in the Encyclopædia Britannica as Moslems, 36,000; Christians, 77,000; Jews, 2500; Druze, 400; foreigners, 4100.
After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire following the First World War, Beirut, along with all of Lebanon was given to the French. The French administration showed great preference for the Christian community, leading to religious strains in the city. Lebanon was given its independence following the Second World War and Beirut became its capital city. Beirut remained the intellectual capital of the Arab world and a major commercial and tourist centre until 1975 when a brutal civil war broke out in Lebanon. During most of the war, the city was divided between the largely Muslim west part and the Christian east. The central area of the city, previously the focus of much of the commercial and cultural activities, became a no-man's land. Many of the city's best and brightest inhabitants fled to other countries. Since the end of the war, the people of Lebanon have been rebuilding Beirut, and the city has regained its status as a tourist, cultural and intellectual centre of the Middle East, as well as the center for commerce, fashion and media.
- Linda Jones Hall, Roman Berytus: Beirut in Late Antiquity, 2004.
- Samir Kassir, Histoire de Beyrouth, Fayard 2003, 732 pages (in French).
Last updated: 09-03-2005 18:37:12