Lebanon, a swinging door to the world

Explore Lebanon through the story of one of our readers, who discovers a territory with Western and Eastern influences and an incredible richness

I discovered Lebanon during a bright spring. It was in a professional setting, in part, that I was able to enjoy this four-day trip by meeting cultural institutions during visits and evenings that were more interesting than the other.

I lived in Beirut in the centre, which was elegantly rebuilt after the war, a resolutely modern centre that does not deny the use of traditional materials, including this limestone with its warm colour and fragrant cedar. The minarets of mosques compete in height with the bell towers of churches in a happy visual cohabitation. They are the most visible marks of who the Lebanese people are; a mosaic of religions divides them but strangely enough seems to bring them together in the anxiety of new conflicts.

Almost upon my arrival, I felt how warm, friendly and welcoming this population, which is very open to the world, is. Dinner at a Lebanese house is an authentic pleasure! Their cuisine, which is appreciated throughout the world, reflects a little of what the Ottoman Empire was like, a mixture of what can be eaten in South-Eastern Europe, Russia and the Middle East. Receiving and going out is not just for weekends and I had a feeling that celebrating is for them a kind of emergency before an uncertain future.

Six million Lebanese people live in the country as well as two million immigrants, but a diaspora of four million people of the last generation enriches the Lebanese soul by linking it to other nations. In Beirut, I deeply felt the feeling of being at “one of the swinging doors” of the world.

The French mandate of the League of Nations over the country has left very deep traces in Lebanese society and the relationship between our two countries is still close. Cultural exchanges are very rich and demonstrations often take place in superbly restored old buildings.

Without having enough free time to enjoy the Mediterranean coast or all the museums, I nevertheless wanted to visit the Sursock Museum, which houses a collection of modern art in an impeccable and intelligent museography. It is worth a visit, located in a private mansion dating from the early 19th century and in a beautiful district of Beirut. The collections are focused on Lebanese art and are of the highest quality. We shared a coffee that day with friends and the curator of the institution on the terrace of the museum’s brewery, in the sun and from the most beautiful viewpoint. A good time!

A day remained before returning to the plane and I wanted to walk through the Roman ruins of Baalbek in the east of the country, reached after crossing the mountains of Lebanon and the Bekaa Valley by taxi. It is a group of temples considered to be the most important in the Mediterranean basin in terms of size. The Romans built it in two centuries on the decision of Emperor Augustus to mark Rome’s hold on the region.

The whole is impressive to say the least, especially since the view of the snow-covered mountains during this season is part of the poetry that emerges from the site. The temple dedicated to Bachus, also built in a golden stone, is probably the most beautiful, best preserved and spectacularly dimensioned. On the left side one of the imposing columns leaned to the point of leaning against the wall, revealing its fragility and the uncertainty of its future. I wanted to see there the destiny of this so attractive country.

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