Beirut’s archeology has revealed a history which dates back at least 5,000 years. In the first century B.C., the Romans colonized it and built a Law School which remained into the Byzantine era. The city was completely destroyed in 551 due to an earthquake, tidal wave and fire striking it all at once. It was later invaded successively by the Arab Muslim forces, the Crusaders, the Mamlukes and the Ottomans.
The latter controlled Beirut for 400 years until they were defeated by the Allies in 1918. After that, the city witnessed progressive development until 1975 when it was destroyed by war. In 1992, a massive construction project to rebuild the city center was started. Today one can enjoy the architectural beauty of the renovated structures within the Beirut Central District.
Beneath the ruined downtown area, which is under reconstruction, lie the remains of Ottoman, Mamluke, Crusader, Abbassid, Umayyad, Byzantine, Roman, Persian, Phoenician and Canaanite Beirut. A good portion of Beirut’s history will be uncovered before reconstruction is complete.
The first written reference to Beirut is in tablets from the 14th Century BC. King Ammunira of Beirut was requesting aid from the pharaoh of Egypt at the time, to help defend the city against the Hittites.
Modern Beirut was once called Berytus by the Phoenicians. Centrally located on the eastern Mediterranean coast at the foot of the Lebanon Mountains, it became an important center of ancient Mediterranean trade. Through the centuries, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Crusaders and Ottoman Turks occupied the site, all adding to its archeological treasures.
The earthquakes that occurred in Beirut around 500 AD and 1000 AD created untouched layers of history, each preserved; a treasure trove for archeologists. Until the past few years, there has been little archeological digging in Beirut because the city had been continuously occupied since Phoenician times. The history of Beirut had thus far been pieced together from ancient documents and archeological sources have remained largely untouched.
Beginning in 1993, archaeologists and builders began cooperating on just such a project. Teams from Lebanese and foreign institutions have found significant remains from each of Beirut’s historical periods. All discoveries are being carefully recorded and many will be preserved.
Group of Five Columns
These columns found to the left of the St. George Maronite Cathedral, were once part of a grand colonnade of Roman Berytus. They were found in 1963.
Discovered west of the St. George Maronite Cathedral, this semi-circular cultural building was moved in 1963 to Blvd. Charles Helou near the eastern entrance to the modern port.
Behind Bank Street are remains of the Roman bath which once served the city’s population. Originally discovered in 1968-69, it underwent a thorough cleaning and further excavation in 1995-1997.
Four Corniced Columns
These columns in front of the Parliament Building in Nejmeh Square were discovered in 1968-69.
Highly Carved Colonnade
Found in the 1940’s between Nejmeh Square and the Great Mosque, this five-column colonnade is part of the Roman basilica. The columns were later erected across from the National Museum on Damascus Street.
These mosaics came from a Byzantine church of the 5th century A.D. They were moved from Khalde south of Beirut to a site near the National Museum in the 1950’s.
The Greek-Orthodox Cathedral of Saint George
Until the recent war in Lebanon, this church built in 1767, was the oldest functioning church in Beirut. The decorations on its walls were lost during the war.
The Greek-Catholic Cathedral of Saint Elias
This mid-19th century church with it’s vaulted interior was once decorated with a marble iconostasis.
The Saint Louis Church of the Capucins
Inaugurated in 1863, this church served the foreign community of the Latin rite in Beirut.
The Evangelical Church
This church was built in 1867 by a group of Evangelical Anglo-American missionaries.
The Maronite Cathedral of Saint George
Built in 1888, the style of this church is neo-classical.
The National Museum of Beirut is a must on every visitor’s itinerary. An effortless introduction to Lebanon’s history, it speaks volumes about the country’s ancient peoples and civilization. Although it was severely damaged during Lebanon’s war (1975-91), generous public and private support allowed the museum to reopen permanently in 1999 with a face lift, updated displays and a renewed sense of purpose. A branch of Lebanon’s Directorate General of Antiquities, the Museum’s function is not only to exhibit objects, but to conserve, restore and document them. Its collections are also a valuable resource for scholars, students and tourists.
The museum’s story goes back to the 1920’s when a central collection point was needed for archaeological finds. Work on the handsome building, designed in a neo-Pharaonic style, was begun in 1930 and completed in 1937.
When it opened in May 1943 it displayed antiquities from excavations in Beirut, Sidon, and Tyre. Further discoveries around the country added more material and over the next three decades the museum served as one of Lebanon’s most important cultural institutions.
A museum of modern art located in the Sursock Quarter in Achrafieh. In addition to its permanent collection, it presents regular exhibitions of paintings, sculpture and other art forms.
Rawcheh, on Beirut’s western-most tip, is a popular area with something for everyone. Its most famous landmark is Pigeon Rocks, huge formations which stand like sentinels off the coast.
Numerous restaurants in Rawcheh serve local and foreign cuisine, while cliff-side cafés offer a good range of snacks. But walking and jogging are the favorite pastimes on this seaside promenade.
The shores near Pigeon Rocks have yielded the oldest evidence we have of human existence on the site of Beirut. Flints and basic tools found here are displaced in the American University of Beirut Archaeological Museum.