It was in November 2010 whilst working in Saudi Arabia, that based on the advice of a friend of ours, we planned to visit Cyprus in search of an investment property / holiday home. Having made our decision, in order to get from Riyadh to Larnaca, we found the best way was to travel via Beirut in The Lebanon, and since neither of us had been there before, we decided to stay over for a couple of days.
My memory of Beirut, of that short stay, is one of a very busy and noisy city, the constant toots of taxi horns and incredible hustle and bustle. However, it’s a really interesting city to explore, but certainly back then, the scars of the civil war were still very visible. Personally, I can’t think of Beirut without recalling the stories of John McCarthy, Terry Waite, Brian Kennan, and Jackie Mann, all caught up in the brutality of those times.
In 2010 however, it was a very different place, full of vibrancy and life – but the highlight of our stay was a day trip to visit the amazing Roman ruins in the town Baalbek, around 85kms north east of Beirut.
Baalbek is located along the famous Beqaa Valley, and as we didn’t have much time available, rather than book an organised tour we hired a local guide to take us on the trip – we’ve found over the years that that can be a great approach to taking tours, as you are not then dependent on the timetable of others, and you have an expert on hand to answer all your questions.
It’s quite a drive, but the rewards are just something else. A stunning collection of ruins that you are free to walk around, without hinderance, and most importantly, without crowds of fellow tourists. Only a handful of people shared our experiences that day, and from reading more recent reviews, I don’t think much has changed – Baalbek is somewhat off the beaten track, so despite the popularity of Beirut, not too many make the trip to see these treasures of Ancient Rome.
The other thing that stood out for me during our visit was the lack of what we Westerners would call ‘Health and Safety’ – as a visitor you are pretty much free to wander, climb, touch, explore as much as you wish, something that if the same site were in London, or Paris, would be very different – I would expect to see many barriers, signs, guided walkways, etc., but in Baalbek, the main assistance is from the optional guide book, and that aside, it’s an open playground.
There are many websites and books that can tell the history of Baalbek much better than I could attempt to in these few paragraphs, so I will rely on a few photos to share some of the amazing sights that we saw – it’s a place that we both felt very privileged to have experienced, and in the event you ever find yourself with time to spare in Beirut, I would strongly recommend a visit, subject to verifying the local security situation.