The Republic of Lebanon (Arabic: لبنان) is a small country (10,452km² in area) with 3.7 million inhabitants) within the Middle East region with its capital being Beirut. It has a long coastline on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea and shares a long land border with its much larger neighbour Syria to the north and the east, a much shorter (and currently “hot”) border with Israel to the south.
Lebanon is a country with a long and rich history. Phoenician, Egyptian, Greek, Persian, Roman, Arab, Crusader, and Ottoman ruins are scattered about the country and the most important of them are easily accessible. Byblos, Beirut, Tyre and Sidon are among the oldest continuously populated cities in the world. There are Roman baths in Beirut, as well as the Cardio Maximus – to name a few. Byblos is also rich in Crusader ruins and for a small fee you can view them (they are located near the bazaar). There are a lot of ancient mosques, synagogues, and churches in Lebanon. Also be sure to visit the Place des Martyrs (Martyrs’ Square) in Beirut, a statue erected in memory of the Lebanese nationalists who were hanged by the Ottomans for revolting during the first World War.
The people of Lebanon comprise a wide variety of ethnic groups, religions and denominations, with the two main groups split between Christian (Maronite, Greek Orthodox, Greek-Catholic Melkites, Armenians, Protestant, Syriac Christians) and Muslim (Shi’a, Sunni, Alawites), and Druzes. There is a large number (over 250,000) of Palestinian refugees in the country, which fled their homeland in 1948. There is also a huge number of Syrian refugees and displaced persons (around 2,000,000) due to the ongoing conflict in Syria.
One of the rare things that most Lebanese religious and political leaders will agree on is to avoid a new general census, for fear that it could trigger a new round of denominational conflict. The last official census was performed in 1932, when Christians were once a majority in Lebanon. Estimates today are academic and unofficial, due to this sensitivity.
People are very easy-going and welcoming. Asking someone on the street for directions is easy, since most of them will do their best to help you. Political and religious questions may be sensitive topics of discussion.
Lebanon is populated by very open and educated people, especially in places like Beirut, Mount Lebanon and some of the larger cities. Attitudes and behaviors tend to be more conservative in the Bekaa Valley and rural north and south.
Lebanon and Beirut were once called the Switzerland and Paris of the Middle East. The recent wars have diminished this status, but the Lebanese have learned to adapt. Their pursuit of happiness and fun overshadows their financial capabilities and political problems.