The final day with my driver neatly encapsulates the variety that is Lebanon. A casual glance through my picures on this post and you could be in Italy, England, Greece, Spain or the Middle East. There is Christian and Muslim. This troubled country really is a melting pot. It’s another sunny 30 degree day as we follow the coastal highway south. The beautiful azure Mediterranean Sea is to my right and mountains to the left.
Sidon is 1 hour south of downtown Beirut and the feature here is yet another 11t h century crusader castle. This one is the most photogenic of them all situated on a small island just offshore which is now linnked by a causeway. So strategically effective was it that when the Muslims drove the crusaders out of here they destroyed as much of it as possible to prevent them from reoccupying the site.
Souks of Sidon
A further hour south is Tyre which is the last major city here before the disputed border with Israel. This remains a Hezbollah stronghold but you wouldn’t know it walking the streets. The star attraction here is the Roman hippodrome dating back to the 2nd century AD. Its dimensions are 90 metres wide and 480 metres long this vast stadium could seat 40,000 people. Primarily a stadium for chariot races other sporting contests are likely to have occurred here too. It is surreal sitting atop a marble Roman grandstand imagining what it must have been like. I guess Boxing Day at the MCG will never be quite the same for me!
A wander through the harbour and the Christian quarter is vaguely evocative of the Greek islands. All around are brightly painted apartments and it is a pleasure to wander through the narrow alleyways down to the Al Mina Roman ruins. Built in the 3rd century AD these evocative columns are perched down by the seaside. They lead down to a now submerged harbour. Wandering around there is some superb mosaic tiling on the ground. Amazingly and disappointingly these almost 2 millenia relics are not cordoned off and ignorant tourists trample on them.
On the way home Mohammed takes us back up over the hills behind Beirut. The mountains were always a Christian stronghold and there is once again a homely, comfortable European feel to the towns here. The hillsides are heavily forested with pine trees and there weather is decidedly cooler. We arrive at Beit Eddine Palace. Completed in 1840, one could be in southern Spain wandering around this beautiful structure. In the summer it hosts a festival to showcase the best of Lebanese arts.