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Syria: The Land of Lebanon,
    1913 by Lewis Gaston Leary, p.29-36:


CHAPTER III.


THE CITY OF SATURN...

    The word Beirut is doubtless derived from the ancient Semitic place-name Beeroth which means "wells," and throughout the Arab world such a designation immediately calls up a picture of fertile prosperity. The triangular cape on whose northern shore the city is situated projects from the foot of Lebanon five miles into the Mediterranean and has an area of about sixteen square miles. This level broadening of the coastal plain appears in striking contrast to the country just north and south of it, where there is often hardly room for a bridle-path between the cliffs and the sea. Beirut itself has a population of nearly 200,000, and within sight are many scores of flourishing villages. Indeed, with the possible exception of Damascus and its environs, this is the most densely populated, intensely cultivated and prosperous district in either Syria or Palestine.

    The southwest side of the cape is bordered by great piles of sand, which is said to have been brought hither by wind and tide all the way from Egypt. Perhaps it did not travel so far as that; but after every heavy rain a yellow stream runs northward through the Mediterranean close to the shore and deposits its sediment when it strikes the edge of the cape. The rapid shifting of these sand dunes under the influence of the prevailing west winds is a continual menace to the city, and the surrounding orchards would soon be overwhelmed if it were not for a series of closely-planted pine groves which, since the first trees were set out here in the seventeenth century by the Druse prince Fakhreddin [Fakhr-al-Din II, فخر الدين الثاني بن قرقماز], have served as a barrier against the inroads of the windswept sand.

    Back of the dark line of protecting pines, millions upon millions of olive trees appear as one great mass of shimmering green. When Ibrahim Pasha, the Egyptian conqueror of Syria, looked down from Lebanon upon the country about Beirut, he exclaimed that three seas lay beneath him; the blue Mediterranean, the yellow waste of sand and the silvery surface of the olive forest which floods the fertile plain.

    Near the lighthouse on the point, where perpendicular cliffs rise two hundred feet out of the Mediterranean, the storm waves have cut a number of lofty caverns. The water in most of these is so filled with fallen rocks that, except when the sea is absolutely calm, it is unsafe to take a boat into them; but the series of deep, gloomy caves is a challenge to the swimmer. Beneath the surface of the crystal water can be seen huge boulders covered with brilliant sea-anemones and sharp-spined sea-urchins. From the liquid pavement the roof arches up into the darkness like the nave of an old cathedral, or like some ruined palace of Neptune. Occasional ledges provide convenient resting-places where one can sit and watch the pigeons flying in and out, or listen to the twitter of the swallows and the chatter of the frightened bats. The caves sometimes harbor larger denizens than these. More than once, when swimming before them, I have been startled to see the dog-like head of a seal appear in the water close beside me.

    Slanting up into the walls of these caverns are narrow tunnels where the softer rock has been worn away by the seeping of the surface water from above. If one cares to risk losing a little skin from the elbows and knees, it is possible to climb many yards up these steep, slippery shafts. One day, while walking along the top of the cliff, I came upon the upper end of a natural chimney whose formation appeared so unusually regular that I became curious to see what it might lead to. So I slid down twelve or fifteen feet and dropped into the ashes of a recent fire which had been built in the center of a cozy little cave high above the water. The rocky point of the cape, honeycombed with dark passages and secret hiding-places, is a favorite resort of smugglers, especially on moonless nights; and in the bazaars of the city you can buy many articles which have not been submitted to the extortions of the Turkish customhouse. While I was a resident of Beirut, the "king of the smugglers," who lived near me, killed three revenue officers who were interfering with his illicit trade. Bribery and intimidation, however, soon removed all danger of prosecution for his various crimes; and a few days later I saw him driving defiantly along the Shore Road in his elegant carriage.

    Beirut has suffered so severely from earthquakes, as well as from besieging armies, that there remain no traces of very old buildings except some columns of reddish Egyptian granite. Only a few of these can now be seen above ground or lying under water at the bottom of the harbor, where doubtless they were rolled by earthquake shocks; but from the frequency with which they appear whenever excavations are made, there must be a multitude of them scattered all over the site of the ancient city.

    Among the mountains just back of the cape are the ruins of a Roman aqueduct, which supplied the city from a spring in the valley of the Beirut River, six miles away. The ravine was bridged by a series of six arches, arranged in four tiers. The lowest of these had two spans; the highest had twenty-five, and rose a hundred and sixty feet above the river-bed. On the west bank, the water was carried through a tunnel cut in the solid rock of the mountainside. This opening is now filled with fallen stones, and of the aqueduct itself there remain only a few broken arches at the eastern end; yet the massive ruin, rising high above the river amid these desolate, lonely surroundings, still suggests the wealth and enterprise of the centuries long gone by.

    During the last forty years Beirut has been abundantly provided with water piped from the Dog River [Nahr al-Kalb, نهر الكلب] by an English company. So pure is this supply that since its use became common the city has not known a single outbreak of cholera or plague, though the surrounding country has often been devastated by these diseases. One memorable year we watched a fearful epidemic creep up the coast toward us, curve inland round the edge of the district supplied with Dog River water, and then sweep back again to the seashore and continue its terrible journey northward.

    The Dog River was in ancient times known as the Lycus or "Wolf " River. It is said to have received its present name from a marvelous statue of a dog set above the cliffs, which opened its stone mouth and barked lustily at the approach of a hostile ship. Indeed, to this very day a vivid imagination can discern the likeness of a huge mastiff in a certain boulder, now submerged in the center of the stream.

    The pass up its rocky gorge has been trod by many a great army. The well-preserved bridge which now spans the stream was built bv the sultan Selim four hundred years ago; but a Latin inscription on the cliff indicates that a military road was constructed here by Marcus Aurelius as early as the second century, and on the sheer rocks at the left bank of the river are cut panels whose records far antedate the days of Roman supremacy. Ashur-nasir-pal [Ashurnasirpal I], Shalmaneser, Tiglath-pileser, Sennacherib, Esarhaddon, Rameses — such are the strange sounding names given to the forms in bas-relief which still lift above the rushing stream the scepters of their long-vanished power. The boastings of Greek and Arabic conquerors are also found along this path of ancient armies and — what seems in such surroundings a weak anti-climax — upon a panel which originally bore one of the Egyptian inscriptions now appears the record of the French expedition of 1860.

    Four miles from the mouth of the Dog River, its principal tributary bursts from a cave which extends far into the heart of Lebanon. Within this are found stalactites of every shape and color, natural columns as large and almost as symmetrical as those of the Parthenon, enormous cathedral-like chambers, labyrinthine passages without number, deep icy pools, and cascades whose dull thunder reverberates through the dark depths of the mountain. With the aid of portable rafts, adventurous explorers have penetrated this wonderful cavern for nearly a mile; but at that distance there was no diminution of the volume of the stream or any other indication that they had come at all near to the source of the mysterious underground river. The light of their torches but dimly revealed the roaring torrent ceaselessly speeding out from dark, distant channels like those


    Although the Bay of Beirut opens to the Mediterranean at an obtuse angle, it is so well protected from storms by the long cape that it provides the safest anchorage between Port Said and Smyrna. I remember only one tempest which blew so strongly that anchors could not hold and steamers had to leave the port for the open sea. The harbor is crowded with shipping of all sizes and shapes, from the little coastwise barks and the queer, low Egyptian boats with their one triangular sail to the great transatlantic liners which bring multitudes of tourists on cruises to the Holy Land. About four thousand merchant vessels clear the port annually.
    Since the dawn of history, Damascus has sent its exports hither by the ancient caravan road. For the past eighteen years there has been a railway across the mountains, and its recently completed branch to Aleppo will doubtless attract more and more of the trade of northern Syria.

    The exports from Beirut amount each year to over $4,000,000. About one-third of this value is made up of raw silk; other important commodities are olive oil, licorice and fruit. The character of the chief imports is determined by the fact that the mountains are almost denuded of large forest trees. Immense quantities of timber, metal girders, firewood and petroleum must therefore be brought from abroad. The dependence of Syria upon other countries for the materials used in modern construction was illustrated in the building of the American Girls' School in Beirut. The lumber came from Maine, the doors and windows from Massachusetts, the desks and chairs from New York, the clay tiles from France, the zinc roof of the cupola from England, and the glass from Austria.

    The cream-colored sandstone for this and a multitude of other structures was, however, quarried near Beirut. The stone makes a fine building material, as it is easily worked, attractive in appearance and very durable. But unfortunately it is at first quite porous, and newly-erected houses are dangerously damp until the rains of two or three winters have, on their way through the walls, first dissolved a certain amount of the stone and then deposited it in the interstices. So the Syrian proverb says, "When you build a house, rent it the first year to your enemy, the second year to your friend, and the third year move into it yourself."

    The traveler who journeys to Beirut from the west is naturally impressed by its scenes of Oriental life; but to one who has come hither from Lebanon or Damascus or even from Jerusalem, it seems almost a European city. Here is a French gas company, an English waterworks, a German hospital and an American college; here are post and telegraph offices, a harbor filled with shipping, and the terminus of a busy railway system. Four lines of electric tram-cars furnish quick transportation through the main streets to the attractive suburbs, and many of the wealthier residents possess automobiles. A score of printing-presses are at work and daily newspapers are sold by shouting newsboys. There are a dozen good hotels; and well-equipped stores, run on European lines, are rapidly crowding out the tiny shops of the typical Oriental merchant. Gaudy billboards extol the virtues of French cosmetics, English insurance companies and American sewing machines, phonographs and shoes, or announce the subjects of the moving-picture dramas for the coming week. Carriages throng the principal thoroughfares, the better class of citizens wear European costumes, and no passenger-steamship drops anchor in the harbor without being met by the red-shirted boatmen and suave interpreters of the enterprising tourist-agencies.

    To the casual visitor, Beirut seems therefore a very peaceable, matter-of-fact place. He does not experience the feeling of half-confessed uneasiness which marked his strolls through the native quarters of other Oriental cities. Yet the busy every-day life of the seaport moves upon the thin crust of a seething volcano of hate, which all too often breaks out into murderous rage...

The Druses of the Lebanon, 1855, by George Washington Chasseaud

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Lebanon map, from the CIA World Factbook

    The Republic of Lebanon is a narrow strip about 135 miles (215 km) long (north to south) and 20 to 55 miles wide (east to west), bounded to the north & east by Syria and to the south by Israel. The capital is Beirut. The area of Lebanon is about 3,950 square miles (10,230 square km); another source says 4,036 sq mi (10,452 sq km). The estimated population of Lebanon in 2004 was 4,432,000, but Lebanon has not taken a census since 1932. The official language is Arabic, but French and English are also widely used.

    Following the capture of Syria from the Ottoman Empire by Anglo-French forces in 1918, France received a mandate over this territory and separated out the region of Lebanon in 1920. France granted this area independence in 1943.

    A lengthy civil war (1975-1990) devastated the country, but Lebanon has since made progress toward rebuilding its political institutions. Under the Ta'if Accord - the blueprint for national reconciliation - the Lebanese established a more equitable political system, particularly by giving Muslims a greater voice in the political process while institutionalizing sectarian divisions in the government.

    Since the end of the war, Lebanon has conducted several successful elections. Most militias have been disbanded, with the exception of Hizballah, designated by the US State Department as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, and Palestinian militant groups.

    During Lebanon's civil war, the Arab League legitimized in the Ta'if Accord Syria's troop deployment, numbering about 16,000 based mainly east of Beirut and in the Bekaa Valley. Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon in May 2000 and the passage in September 2004 of UNSCR 1559 - a resolution calling for Syria to withdraw from Lebanon and end its interference in Lebanese affairs - encouraged some Lebanese groups to demand that Syria withdraw its forces as well. The assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq HARIRI and 22 others in February 2005 led to massive demonstrations in Beirut against the Syrian presence ("the Cedar Revolution"), and Syria withdrew the remainder of its military forces in April 2005.

    In May-June 2005, Lebanon held its first legislative elections since the end of the civil war free of foreign interference, handing a majority to the bloc led by Saad HARIRI, the slain prime minister's son. In July 2006, Hizballah kidnapped two Israeli soldiers leading to a 34-day conflict with Israel in which approximately 1,200 Lebanese civilians were killed. UNSCR 1701 ended the war in August 2006, and Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) deployed throughout the country for the first time in decades, charged with securing Lebanon's borders against weapons smuggling and maintaining a weapons-free zone in south Lebanon with the help of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). The LAF in May-September 2007 battled Sunni extremist group Fatah al-Islam in the Nahr al-Barid Palestinian refugee camp, winning a decisive victory, but destroying the camp and displacing 30,000 Palestinian residents.

    Lebanese politicians in November 2007 were unable to agree on a successor to Emile LAHUD when he stepped down as president, creating a political vacuum until the election of Army Commander Michel SULAYMAN in May 2008 and the formation of a new unity government in July 2008.
    CIA World Factbook: Lebanon


Area of Lebanon: 10,400 sq km
about 0.7 times the size of Connecticut

Population of Lebanon: 4,017,095
July 2009 estimate

Languages of Lebanon:
Arabic official, French, English, Armenian

Lebanon Capital: Beirut


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