History of a Nation
Lebanon … extending along the very centre of the north-south coastline forming the eastern limits of the Mediterranean Sea, with Beirut its capital, a million inhabitants, a fine harbour and a busy airport, the gaping wounds of a terrible war in the quite recent past, and finally its titanic efforts for ultramodern reconstruction…
This Lebanon is formed of two parallel chains of mountains, with peaks reaching 3000 metres, hugging a 250-kilometre coastline and cradling between them the Bekaa valley. This depression is some twelve kilometres wide, very fertile and highly reputed for its vineyards, its wines, its varied crops and its rivers of mythic fame, the Orontes in the North, the Litani flowing into the sea through the South, and the Bardaouni flowing into the Bekaa itself.For the early authors of the Bible coming in from the desert, Lebanon was a paradise of forests and gardens, “of fabulous springs of water, a land flowing with milk and honey.” Olive trees, plantains, orange-trees, vines, apple-trees, fig-trees, almond-trees, cherry-trees, strawberry plants, and great expanses of forests of evergreen oaks, larches, Mediterranean pines, and above all giant cedars celebrated by the poets:”To what shall I compare your greatness? Surely, to a cedar of Lebanon with noble branches, thickset needles and lofty trunk…It was the envy of every tree in Eden, in the garden of God.” (Ezekiel XXXI);”May I not go across and see this prosperous land beyond the Jordan, this prosperous country of hills, and Lebanon?” (Deuteronomy III, 25, Moses on Mount Nebo);”Come from Lebanon, my promised bride, come from Lebanon, come on your way.”
(The Song of Songs, IV, 8) Lebanon is the window of the East behind it, opening on to the West, and has been such for thousands of years. The mighty cities built on its shores have a glorious past, Tyre, Sidon, Beirut, Byblos, Tripoli, Arwad, Ugarit.
They grew up during the third, second and first millennia before Christ and built for themselves a maritime empire along all the shores of the Mediterranean, as far as Carthage in Tunisia, Carthagena, Tarsis and Barcelona in Spain, and Cadiz – Qadesh, The Holy, facing the immense ocean beyond the Pillars of Melkart (Hercules).
These Phoenicians carried with them the fruits of the civilisations of Mesopotamia and of Egypt. They gave the Greeks their legends, including that of Europa daughter of the king of Tyre, snatched away by Jupiter and taken to Greece. Cadmos, Thales, Euclid and Zeno of Citium instructed the West in wisdom and gave it the alphabet that their countrymen had themselves developed.
During the time of the Greco-Roman Empire, Beirut was famed for its School of Law, rivalling those of Athens and Alexandria. In the second century A.D., Philo of Byblos wrote a life of the emperor Hadrian. If during the Arab conquests this window to the West was closed for strategical reasons, to avoid contact with the rival Byzantine Empire, it was forcibly flung open again during the twelfth century by the Crusades, only to be slammed shut again until the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1919.
Since then it has remained open and now the Arab countries use it to meet a West which has now become familiar to them. As a land of hospitality and of contacts and exchanges of every description, Lebanon has become the privileged forum for dialogue between the two great monotheistic religions, Islam and Christianity, which here coexist in friendly understanding and make of Lebanon a symbol and a model for the world to follow.
Openminded, joyful, tolerant and helpful, the people of this country open their arms to you, with Ahla! Ahla! Feel yourself welcome and at home, already one of us!
Jean De Lalande – K.J. Mortimer