Beirut is the Middle East's most cosmopolitan city, combining a colourful past, a bright future and citizens who love to live life to its fullest.
Fifty centuries is a lot of history to have under your belt . . . and under your streets and buildings. Beirut has every minute of it. With habitation that predates the city’s founding in the 14th century B.C., the city’s history is not only long but also varied as patchwork.
In Beirut’s new Central Beirut District, it’s hard to disturb the ground to build the gleaming office towers and posh shopping precincts without stumbling on something ancient. A remnant of an Iron Age wall. Persian olive jars. Roman baths. Relics of Byzantine shops. Bits of a fortress built by Crusaders. Ottoman seraglios, souks and mosques stand beside the elegant French Mandate buildings from the 1920s and ’30s that helped give Beirut its nickname, Paris of the Middle East. All have been crosscut by periods of civil war.
Yet, Beirut today doesn’t look backward. It keeps its eyes on the bright new future it is constructing for itself. The Central Beirut District, where Four Seasons Hotel Beirut shines prominently on the waterfront, is both symbolic and concrete evidence. And the shopping is sublime, with brand names you’d see in London’s Knightsbridge or on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile nestled into 21st-century souks that nevertheless take their architectural cues from the city’s heritage.
Beirutis reflect this historic and cultural diversity. Theirs is the most cosmopolitan city in the Middle East, a fact that regional visitors appreciate as much as those from further afield. It’s also incredibly youthful in outlook. Perhaps because they have weathered so many storms, the people of Beirut live for the moment. Celebration is an everyday affair. Cafés and nightclubs bustle all night long with energetic partygoers dressed to be seen. After a night of dancing, it isn’t unusual to continue the celebration over breakfast.
All this makes Beirut an exciting destination to explore. Midway on Lebanon’s coast, a short drive from beaches and backed by mountains with ski slopes, this is really a place where “Land of Contrasts” moves beyond the cliché into reality.