Lebanon, officially the Republic of Lebanon, is a Country in Western Asia, on the eastern shore of The Mediterranean Sea. Lebanon’s mountainous terrain, proximity to the sea, and strategic location at a crossroads of the world were decisive factors in shaping its history. The political, economic, and religious movements that either originated in the region or crossed through to leave an imprint upon Lebanese society give form to that history. For the people of the Mediterranean, Lebanon is in the area where the sun rises. Lebanon is a very small country, perched on 2 mountainous ranges called the Lebanon and the anti-Lebanon, with a valley in the middle named the Beka’a. Unlike the rest of the Middle East, Lebanon is a very “green” country, with lots of flowers and trees and small rivers. There is no desert in Lebanon, just lots of rocky mountains.
THE STONE AGE
Lebanon has been inhabited for hundreds of thousands of years. River banks were the natural highways of prehistoric people. They moved along the Litani, Nahr Ibrahim, Nahr el-Kalb and Nahr Beirut rivers in search of food, hunting, fishing and gathering roots, wild plants and fruit. The only weapons they had were branches and stones, which they used to defend themselves and to kill wild animals. Lions, tigers, wolves, rhinoceros, gazelles, goats, bears and foxes roamed the mountains, forests and the inland and coastal plains. They took shelter in the caves of the mountains overlooking the entire coast. The discovery of fire allowed them to heat themselves, cook meat, have light at night and frighten away wild animals for the first time. They learned to chip the stones they used as weapons and tools in order to make them sharper and more pointed. These people were known as Neanderthals. About 80,000 years ago, the Neanderthals disappeared, and their place was taken by Homo Sapiens, the modern human species. They also lived in caves but produced a greater variety of stone tools.
THE BEGINNINGS OF AGRICULTURE
People understood that seeds falling in the ground grew into plants. They cultivated the land near their caves and sowed crops. They domesticated dogs, sheep, and goats. They kept their grain harvest in storage jars made out of clay. Now that they started organizing their food supplies, they spent less time hunting and started decorating their tools. With the discovery of Copper, people started coming up with new tools and weapons and also started creating personal decorative items to hold their clothes together. Jewelry became very much sought after. Gradually, people moved away from their caves and settled in the plains where they had more space for cultivation. Here, near their fields, they built their shelters, their first houses. The first villages began to appear. The new houses were round or oval. Walls were made of mud mixed with straw. The floors were made of beaten earth, sometimes covered with crushed limestone, and rested on foundations made of large pebbles gathered from the surrounding area. Villages were scattered along the coast, in the mountains, and in the plain now called the Beka’a.
UNDER THE ROMAN EMPIRE
The Romans conquered the Phoenician cities about 64 BC. They divided up their empire into administrative regions called provinces. The Phoenician coast, mountains and the Beka’a were included in a vast eastern region called Syria. The Romans were great builders. They built a lot of cities from scratch or added many important buildings in existing ones, such as temples, theaters, arenas, porticos, and public baths. They also established a network of roads, spotlighted by milestones, throughout their provinces. Heliopolis in Roman -or Baalbeck, in Phoenician- was founded at a crossroads of the caravan routes, in the Beka’a. Heliopolis is the “City of the Sun”, and was constructed using the biggest man-made stones of the world. Some of the stones used were so big, that story-tellers started referring to Baalbeck as the city built by the giants. In reality, Baalbeck was originally designed to be a retirement center for Roman Warriors. But the Romans had to impress the local citizens of their empire, as the Phoenicians were also renown builders in antiquity. The city of Beryte -Beirut- became the capital of the entire coastal region. Beirut was a famed University center of the Roman empire. It is not by accident that the first Law School ever was founded in Beirut. During this period, Jesus was born in Palestine. The Phoenicians of Sidon and Sur were amongst the first Christians.
THE BIRTH OF TODAY'S LEBANON
In 1920, the French proclaimed the creation of Greater Lebanon in Beirut, which included Mount Lebanon, the Beka’a, Wadi el-Taym (Taym Valley), Jabal Amel (Mount Amel), Sur, Saida, Beirut and Tripoli. Starting in 1922, the Lebanese elected a local Representative Council, which drew up the Lebanese Constitution under French supervision. This Constitution became the law of the land and was approved by the French in 1926. It defined the borders of Greater Lebanon which it renamed the Republic of Lebanon, as a “united, independent, indivisible and absolutely sovereign State” (Article 1), with all citizens equal under the law -men and women-. Executive power was given to the President of the Republic, assisted by a Cabinet of Ministers (similar to the American “Secretaries” of State, etc..). Legislative power was held by the Parliament (like the Congress). Parliament members were democratically elected by the people.
American Lebanese Cultural Center
6105 Beverly Hill St. Suite 100,
Houston, TX 77057