A modern capital with a prestigious past
Set against breathtaking Mount Lebanon, the deep blue Mediterranean Sea stretching out before it, Beirut teems with a tangible vitality and energy. Every neighborhood of the ancient city boasts its own distinct flavor, and locals will tell you their manakeesh bakeries are the best in the city. They’re right.
Walking the streets of the 5,000-year-old city, one senses the ancient presence of Canaanites, Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Ottomans, and more recently the French.
From the café-riddled streets of Achrafieh and Monot to ultra-modernized downtown to the winding streets of Raouche, all resplendent in tile, Beirut is an endlessly multifarious blend of histories, cultures, languages and foreign influences.
The modern cosmopolitan city of Beirut is home to more than 1 million people, and is the very heart of the country's economic and cultural life.
The Semitic name of the city—be'erot; "wells"—is derived from the word "bir," which is the Phoenician word for well. The city was given the name after several underground sweet-water wells were discovered within it.
The city boasts a glamorous past. As early as 4,000 years ago, it was a prosperous port on the Canaanite-Phoenician coast, and an important commercial center, serving as a crossroads for Eastern and Western civilizations. On the renowned tablets of Tell- Al-Amarna, in Egypt, which date back to the 14th century BC, the city was said to be well-defended under the reign of King Ammunira.
During the Roman era, the city became a prosperous colony called "Colonia Julia Augusta Felix Berytus," in homage to the daughter of Emperor Augustus. With Augustus at the helm of the city, the inhabitants enjoyed tax exemption according to the "ins italicum" law, since it was a Roman colony. Septimus Severus chose the city in the 3rd century to be the site of the law school that attracted students from all over the world. The school was the tribune of many prominent jurists, such as Papinianus, Ulpianus, Gaius, Paulus and the praetorian prefect of Illyria Anatoly the Beiruti, and it shone over the east region. Justinian assigned many professors to teach at the Beirut law school, who were instrumental in setting forth a legislative code that became the foundation of Western laws for centuries to come.
The city experienced a golden era until the Byzantine epoch. Throughout a 1,000-year span, the city gradually lost its splendor until the 18th century. Like other coastal cities, Beirut was occupied several times, and each occupation brought destruction and bombings, separated by intermittent periods of prosperity.
During World War I, Turkish Governor Azmi Pasha ordered the razing of much of the ancient quarters and neighborhoods to pave the way for a new city that combines Oriental influence with urban European foundations. Built with yellow stones and decked with small balconies, most of city’s antique buildings date from the Ottoman era and the subsequent French Mandate.