Beirut is the capital and largest city of Lebanon.
The city is situated on a peninsula extending westward into the Mediterranean Sea. It is flanked by the Lebanon Mountains and has taken on a triangular shape, largely influenced by its situation between and atop two hills: Al-Ashrafieh and Al-Musaytibah.
As of November 2019, the population of Beirut is about 365,000 people; the broader metro area being home to over 2.2 million people.
Beirut covers an area of 20 square kilometers (7.5 square miles) while the metro area covers 67 square kilometers (26 square miles).
The city has average elevation of 35 meters (115 feet) above sea level.
Beirut is one of the oldest cities in the world, having been inhabited for more than 5,000 years.
The first historical mention of Beirut is found in the Amarna letters from the New Kingdom of Egypt, which date to the 15th century BC.
In 14th century BC, it was granted the status of a Roman colony, the Colonia Julia Augusta Felix Berytus.
Between the 3rd and 6th centuries AD, Beirut was famous for its school of law.
The Roman city was destroyed by a succession of earthquakes, culminating in the quake and tidal wave of 551 AD.
When the Muslim conquerors occupied Beirut in 635 AD, it was still mostly in ruins.
From 1110 to 1291, the town and Lordship of Beirut was part of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem.
The Mamlūks drove the crusaders out in 1291. Under Mamlūk rule, Beirut became the chief port of call in Syria for the spice merchants from Venice.
In 1516 the Ottomans take over. They are to rule for four centuries until 1918.
Beirut was occupied by the Allies at the end of World War I, and the city was established by the French mandatory authorities in 1920 as the capital of the State of Greater Lebanon, which in 1926 became the Lebanese Republic.
Lebanon achieved independence in 1943, and Beirut became its capital city and remained the intellectual capital of the Arab world, and a major commercial and tourist center, until 1975, when a brutal civil war broke out in the country.
After the destructive Lebanese civil war, between 1975 and 1990, Beirut has undergone major reconstruction. The once destroyed town center is thriving once again and is a hub of activity. Its former reputation as a crossroads between three continents and a gateway to the East has been restored and modernized. The city is said to be the “Paris of the East”. Beirut has regained its status as a tourist, cultural, and intellectual center in the Middle East, as well as a center for commerce, fashion, and media.
The National Museum of Beirut is the principal museum of archaeology in Lebanon. The collection begun after World War I, and the museum was officially opened in 1942. The museum has collections totaling about 100,000 objects, most of which are antiquities and medieval finds from excavations undertaken by the Directorate General of Antiquities. About 1300 artifacts are exhibited, ranging in date from prehistoric times to the medieval Mamluk period.
The Sursock Museum, which is officially known as the Nicolas Ibrahim Sursock Museum, is a modern art and contemporary art museum in Beirut. In 1912, the wealthy and prominent Lebanese aristocrat Nicolas Ibrahim Sursock built the private villa that now houses the museum. He decreed in his will that the villa be transformed into a museum. When he died in 1952, he bequeathed the villa to the city of Beirut. The museum opened its doors in 1961.
The Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque also referred to as the Blue Mosque, is a Sunni Muslim mosque located in downtown Beirut. In the 19th century, a zawiya (prayer corner) was built on this site. Decades of preparation to obtain sufficient land adjacent to the old Zawiya led finally to the building of the new mosque. It was inaugurated in 2008.
Martyrs’ Square historically known as “Al Burj” or “Place des Cannons”, is the historical central public square of Beirut. In 1931, the historic square took its name to commemorate the martyrs executed there under Ottoman rule. In the 1950s the square became a popular venue for cinemas and coffee-houses. During the Lebanese Civil War, it formed the demarcation line that divided the city in half.
Beirut Souks is a major commercial district. With over 200 shops, 25 restaurants and cafes, a children’s science museum, an entertainment center, a 14 cinema complex, periodic street markets and an upcoming department store, it is Beirut’s largest and most diverse shopping and leisure area.
Today, Beirut is the most religiously diverse city of Lebanon and possibly in all of the Middle East. There are nine major religious communities in Beirut; Sunni Muslim, Shiite Muslim, Druze, Maronite Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Greek Catholic, Armenian Apostolic, Armenian Catholic, and Protestant.
The English name Beirut is an early transcription of the Arabic name Bayrūt. The same name’s transcription into French is Beyrouth, which was sometimes used during Lebanon’s French occupation. The Arabic name derives from Phoenician Berot or Birut. This was a modification of the Canaanite and Phoenician word be’rot, meaning “the wells”, in reference to the site’s accessible water table.