One of the centres of civilisation, Lebanon lays claim to the world's oldest continually inhabited city,
it was the seat of the Phoenicians for 2500 years and like Scotland, has exported so many of its
citizens that there are more people with Lebanese descent outside of its borders than within. It
has had a hard time in the last century however, most notably with the civil war which destroyed its
capital Beirut, and the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war which undid so much of the country's progress since that time.
I visited Lebanon for a weekend on a budget trip out of Dubai, staying in Beirut and visiting Byblos
and Jounieh up the coast. I found Beirut itself to be a tense and edgy place, particularly as I was
visiting during the Arab Spring in 2011, which set in motion in Syria just one week after I left.
What these photos don't show is the amount of soldiers, private security, checkpoints, military vehicles
and razor wire which festoons the city. As a photographer it was quite oppressive, without photographing
anything obviously risky I was still shooed away many times, questioned and had my camera contents inspected
and in some cases deleted by men with large guns. Edgy.
Beirut is very densely packed onto a small peninsula sandwiched between the Lebanese mountains and the
Mediterranean. Although there are no great distances involved and the airport is barely ten clicks
from town, traffic is heavy and taxis will happily rip you off.
Place de L'etoile forms the centre of Beirut, all of which has been rebuilt since the end of the civil
war in 1990.
Prior to the start of the war in 1975 Beirut had become known as The
of the East. Since restoration, some of that former glory is resurfacing.
The Mohammed al Amin mosque is the centrepiece mosque of Beirut, and is immediately adjacent to its
centrepiece cathedral, St George Maronite Cathedral.
Inside Mohammed al Amin mosque. From the outside it looks somewhat like the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.
The Old Souks of Beirut were swept away after the end of the civil war, with the exception of this single
dome. As the bulldozer approached it broke down, and although it was shortly restarted the driver
was then suddenly paralysed and couldn't operate the controls. It was hailed as a miracle, and
the dome still stands today in testament to that.
The New Souks were finally opened in 2009, and are really a fancy modern shopping centre, partly open
air. The layout of the "streets" follows the old Hellenistic street grid.
Lebanon has been home to many civilisations over the millenia, and evidence of the Romans remains in
the form of these baths by the Grand Serail.
The Grand Serail itself is the Government Palace and headquarters of the prime minister of Lebanon.
It was originally built by the Ottoman Empire in 1832.
In central Beirut stands the statue of Riad al Solh, the first prime minister of Lebanon following independence
in 1943. It's tough to be a politician in Lebanon, and he was assassinated
soon after leaving office in 1951. I like his hat though.
Despite much reconstruction in Beirut since the civil war, the city is still littered with reminders
of its recent past. The Murr Tower was built to be Beirut's Trade Centre in 1975, but could not be
completed before the war broke out. It was a favourite spot for snipers, being close to the border
between Christian East Beirut and Muslim West Beirut. There it still stands today, an empty shell.
Bullet holes pepper the fašade of this colonial French style building opposite the new Beirut Souks.
But the most obvious monument to the Lebanese civil war must be the enormous ruin of the Holiday Inn
Beirut. It was a focal point in the "battle of the hotels" of the late 1970s, and was hammered by
rocket attacks. The owner has stated he will not refurbish it until he is satisfied that the city is
stable again, so there it stands in ruins.
The modern Phoenicia Hotel was also involved in the "Front des Hotels" (as it was known in French) but
has since been restored. The hulk of the Holiday Inn still peers over from behind it.
Another casualty of the civil war, the St George Hotel and Yacht Club was once one of the finest in
the Mediterranean. Its reconstruction has been mired in controversy, centred around the company Solidere
which was set up by Rafik Hariri and the government to rebuild Beirut. It was outside this hotel
that Hariri himself was assassinated in 2005.
At the top end of Martyrs' Square is the tough-looking remains of a cinema, still bearing bullet hole
scars around its base.
Martyrs' Square itself sits on the imaginary Green Line which once divided the Muslim and Christian
parts of the city from each other. When I visited they were setting up for a rally, which I saw on TV
the following day. The Palestinian refugee camps which appeared just over the road from here in 2006
have since been moved on.
These propaganda billboards could be seen all across the city.
I was in Beirut in March 2011, during the height of the Arab Spring, and Hosni Mubarak had only recently
been ousted from
Here he is in Lebanese grafitti, with the Arabic word for Egypt (Misr) next to him.
This was the only piece of Lebanese security measures I was willing to attempt to photograph. Concrete
blocks such as these were blocking roads all over the city, decorated to look like the national
The Beirut Corniche is the centrepiece for street activity, seeing and being seen. It has been partly
redeveloped but still bears visible scars in some of the buildings lining it.
Pigeon Rocks at the far west point of the Beirut peninsula, seen as the sun sinks into the Mediterranean.
I was really quite surprised to find such a feature in an urban setting.
Strolling along the Beirut Corniche at sunset.
The sky changed from yellow to purple, behind the lamps of the Corniche.
Beirut is renowned for its nightlife, so I headed to Monot district to get a taste of it. Fancy new
restaurants like The Greedy Goose have appeared, and there are plenty of bars tucked away in this area.
Unfortunately things don't really get going until after midnight, and I had a bus to catch at
7am the next morning...