Our last day in Beirut

Today was our last day in Beirut, before embarking on our 5 day road trip around Lebanon.

After a quiet morning working in the hotel, we set off to the National Museum of Beirut (in the absolutely torrential rain).

I have to say, I’m incredibly impressed with the National Museum, and KUDOS to the people who preserved it and loved it over the war years, and restored it so meticulously thereafter.

I have to admit I didn’t have the time to read up sufficiently on Lebanon’s history prior to arriving, and having spent a few days looking round Beirut, I’ve certainly felt the lack of knowledge.  The sheer mix of Christian and Islamic cultures, of Arabic, Roman and Greek influences – evidently spanning centuries – has baffled me, and made me wish I had better history of this region.

The museum begins with a brilliant exhibition of B.C. artefacts, ranging from statues of Egyptian gods to Roman mosaics.  The geek in me was stunned by the way Egypt, Rome and Greece merge – statues of seated gods with increasingly Greco-Roman features; Caucasian-featured figures with hieroglyph inscriptions.

Then a brilliant exhibition on the history of “Lebanon”, and the various powers that ruled/conquered – from the Egyptians, to Alexander the Great, to the Byzantine empire, to the Arab conquest, Crusaders, and again the Arab return.  I really began to make more sense of the mish-mash of culture in Beirut, and just how far back that dates.

We watched a 15 minute film about the restoration of the museum.  Impressively, all the artefacts were preserved from war by the then-museum director, by hiding all the pieces in concrete casings – which were only broken open in the 1990s, and then painstakingly restored into the very valuable small museum it is today.

On the afternoon, we visited the Omari mosque – the oldest mosque in Beirut, which was originally built as a Christian church, but then converted, leaving a very familiar church-esque building, with all the trappings of an ornate mosque.

We finished our day in Beirut with a walk along the waterfront to see a special rock formation off-shore, as the sun set.

In the evening, we enjoyed some coffee and chatter with the newly wed Lidija, and a mutual friend Judy who we haven’t seen in 12 years (!!), followed by dinner on the bustling Hamra street.

This has been our last day in Beirut, a city which has left us, to be honest, quite confused. Filled with so much history, and so much potential, it feels like Beirut shies away from its traditions and culture – trying to rebuild a city with Western glass skyscrapers and Starbucks.

I hope one day soon the focus shifts to saving the incredible architecture, and culture, we caught glimpses of – and which seem to be treated with disdain currently.

Tomorrow we head off on a wild road trip around the country – starting with the Cedar reserves, where we are told it snowed today – just to make things more exciting!