Population of over 2.1 million as of 2007. Located on a peninsula at the midpoint of Lebanon's coastline with the Mediterranean sea, it serves as the country's largest and main seaport and also forms the Beirut District area, which consists of the city and its suburbs. The first mention of this metropolis is found in the ancient Egyptian Tell el Amarna letters, dating to the 15th century BC, and the city has been continuously inhabited over the centuries since.
Beirut holds Lebanon's seat of government and plays a central role in the Lebanese economy with its Downtown, Hamra, Verdun, and Ashrafieh based corporate firms and banks. The city is also the focal point of the region's cultural life, renowned for its press, theaters and cultural activities. After the destructive Lebanese civil war, Beirut underwent major reconstruction, the redesigned historic city center, marina, pubs and nightlife districts have once again rendered it a popular tourist attraction. Beirut was named the number one Place to Visit in 2009 by The New York Times. It was also list as one of the top ten liveliest cities in the world by the Lonely Planet list of the top ten cities for 2009
Originally named Bêrut, 'The Wells' by the Phoenicians,Beirut's history goes back more than 5000 years. Excavations in the downtown area have unearthed layers of Phoenician, Hellenistic, Roman, Arab and Ottoman remains. The first historical reference to Beirut dates from the 14th century BC, when it is mentioned in the cuneiform tablets of the 'Amarna letters.' Ammunira of Biruta (Beirut) sent 3 letters to the pharaoh of Egypt. Biruta is also referenced in the letters from Rib-Hadda of Byblos. The most ancient settlement was on an island in the river that progressively silted up. The city was known in antiquity as Berytus (see also List of traditional Greek place names); 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 BC, 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 Phoenicia or Laodicea in Canaan, in honor of a Seleucid Laodice. 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-first century 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.
Beirut was conquered by Agrippa in 64 BC and the city was renamed in honor of the emperor's daughter, Julia; its full name became Colonia Julia Augusta Felix Berytus. The veterans of two Roman legions were established in the city: the fifth Macedonian and the third Gallic. The city quickly became Romanized. Large public buildings and monuments were erected and Berytus enjoyed full status as a part of the empire.
Under the Romans, it was enriched by the dynasty of Herod the Great, and was made a colonia, Colonia Iulia Augusta Felix Berytus, in 14 BC. 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). Within a few years, as the result of a disastrous earthquake (551),the students were transferred to Sidon. Saida (Sidon), IkamaAbout 30,000 were killed in Berytus alone and, along the Phoenician coast, total casualties were close to 250,000.
In 1888, Beirut was made capital of a vilayet in Syria, including the sanjaks Latakia, Tripoli, Beirut, Akka 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 that build an impressive education system. This included 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 19th 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 Muslims, 36,000; Christians, 77,000; Jews, 2500; Druze, 400; foreigners, 4100
The culture of Beirut has evolved under the influence of contact with many civilizations and peoples, including Greeks, Romans and Arabs. The law school in Beirut under the Romanized Berytus is believed to be the first law school in the world. This history of multi-culturalism is a point of pride for the Lebanese.
Beirut hosted the Francophonie and the Arab League summits in 2002. In 2007, Beirut hosted the ceremony for Le Prix Albert Londres, which rewards outstanding Francophone journalists every year. The city is set to host the Jeux de la Francophonie in 2009.
The National Museum of Beirut is just a few blocks from the French Embassy and the Military Tribunal, and is found just at the corner of the Damascus Expressway.
The American University of Beirut archaeological museum is the third oldest museum in the Middle East, it exhibits a wide range of artifacts from Lebanon and neighboring countries.
Sursock Museum was built by the Sursock family at the end of the 19th century as a private villa. It was then donated to the Lebanese government and now houses Beirut's most influential and popular art museum. The permanent collection shows a collection of Japanese engravings and numerous works of Islamic art, and temporary exhibitions are shown throughout the year.
Robert Mouawad Private Museum exhibits Henri Pharaon's private archaeology and antiques collection, located near Beirut's the Grand Serail.
Planet Discovery is a children's science museum. It holds interactive experiments, exhibitions, performances and workshops, and awareness competitions.
The once destroyed town center is thriving once again and is very much active. Its former reputation as a crossroads between three continents and gateway to the East has been restored and modernized. Beirut is the oft-invoked 'Paris of the East', and there is plenty of sightseeing, shopping, cuisine, and nightlife to keep a tourist within the city limits for the duration a visit to Lebanon. Lebanon's capital city is a vibrant, stylish metropolis, All over the city, sleek, modern buildings are springing up, alongside arabesque Ottoman and French-style buildings, giving Beirut a unique and very distinctive style often not seen in other Middle Eastern cities.
In Travel and Leisure magazine's World Best Awards 2006, Beirut was ranked 9th best city in the world, falling just short of New York City and coming ahead of San Francisco. However, the list was voted upon before the war broke out in Lebanon that same year. Tourist numbers have increased exponentially these last few months. Recently, Lonely Planet named Beirut as ranking in its 2009 top ten liveliest cities on the planet. 'The New York Times' ranked Beirut first on its '44 places to go' list of 2009
Beirut passed to the Arabs in 635. As a trading centre of the eastern Mediterranean, Beirut was overshadowed by Akka during the Middle Ages. From 1110 to 1291 it was in the hands of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem. John of Ibelin, the Old Lord of Beirut (1179–1236) rebuilt the city after the battles with Saladin, and also built the Ibelin family palace in Beirut.