Lebanon’s history stretches far back into ancient history, and traces of many great civilizations can be found throughout its cities. From ancient temples to natural wonders formed over thousands of years, take a tour of Lebanese heritage with Street View:
The Phoenician Wall
One of the most famous sites in the Lebanese city of Batroun is the Phoenician Wall, an ancient maritime wall built in the sea by the Phoenicians to protect them from incoming tidal waves. The Phoenicians were an ancient seafaring civilization who once made their home along the Lebanese coast, known for their extensive trade networks and for creating purple dye out of ink extracted from sea snails. The Wall originally existed as a natural structure made up of petrified sand dunes, but was then fortified by the Phoenicians over the years with added rocks. Although parts of it have crumbled, for the most part the wall still stands at 225 metres long and varies between 1 and 1.5 metres thick.
Temple of Jupiter (Roman Heliopolis)
Baalbek may take its name from Ba’al, an ancient Phoenician deity, but its impressive ruins of the Temple of Jupiter actually originate from the later Roman period, when the city was known as Heliopolis. The Temple of Jupiter was a colossal temple dedicated to the Roman god Zeus and it remains one of the biggest surviving Roman temples to date. Leading into the complex there is a large entranceway known as a propylaea followed by an unusual hexagonal forecourt. Within the main court remain the largest columns to be found anywhere in the world—6 of which are still standing. The temple itself is perched on top of 3,000 stone blocks, which you can see here on Street View, each weighing around a ton.
One of the oldest continually occupied cities in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage site, Byblos is a historic coastal city located on a sandstone cliff 42km to the north of Lebanon. It’s believed that people first lived here between 8800 and 7000 BCE, making it an archaeological hotspot for its layers upon layers of relics from different cultures over the centuries, from Neolithic to Egyptian to Ottoman. Byblos is home to a beautiful ancient harbour, Byzantine churches, a Roman road, a medieval town centre, a bustling traditional souk and Byblos Citadel, a castle dating from the Crusader era.
In 1836 an American missionary, Reverend William Thomson, made a startling discovery: the Jeita Grotto. Thomson fired his gun when he reached 50m into the cave and the echoes made it clear to him that he’d found an impressively large cavern; over the subsequent years of exploration, the cave system was found to reach 9km underground. There are two main caves: the lower gallery, which can only be reached by boat along an underwater river and the “Dark Lake”; and an “upper gallery”, which is famous for its crystallized formations and for being home to the world’s largest stalactite (a drip-like protrusion from the ceiling). The upper gallery has a section called the Red Chamber and one called the White Chamber for the different color of the formations, caused by the different minerals in the dripstones.
Rock of Raouche
The two huge rock formations that form the natural landmarks called the Rock of Raouche (also known as the Pigeons' Rock) is said to be the remains of a mythological creature. The story goes that the Greek hero Perseus killed the sea monster Cetus to save his future wife Andromeda, then used the head of Medusa to turn the monster into stone. The 60m high rock duo you can now see off the Raouche coastline in the western tip of Beirut is probably more likely to be the result of natural erosion, but of course, that doesn’t make for as good a story.
Cedars of God
Lebanon was once home to a vast forest of cedar trees, but over the centuries most of the wood was gradually stripped away as it was seen as a prime material for ship building, papyrus, and railroads. The trees had a widespread reputation, were frequently mentioned in the bible, and it’s even said that Gilgamesh, the legendary Sumerian King, used cedar wood to build his historic city. Although no longer as extensive, several vestiges of this once-great forest remains, and the cedar tree is seen as a symbol of Lebanon—one is even featured on the country’s flag. The Forest of the Cedars of God in Basharri mountain is the smallest but oldest of the remaining areas of cedar forests in Lebanon.
Ruins of Tyre
The city of Tyre, its name meaning ‘rock’ for the rocky formation on which it was originally built, was once an ancient Phoenician port city and is now the fourth largest city in Lebanon. Like many of Lebanon’s cities, it is home to evidence of all the great civilizations who have lived there over the centuries, the most notable being the Roman Hippodrome from the 2nd century. The Hippodrome was a horseshoe-shaped stadium for racing chariots or horses with the seating section, turning points, central obelisk, and start boxes still visible.
Sidon Sea Castle
Sidon Sea Castle was built by the crusaders during the 13th century on a small island off the coast of Sidon, on the former site of a Phoenician temple. After the crusaders left, the fortification was largely destroyed by Mamluk soldiers to prevent them returning, but the Mamluk then decided it was more sensible to put it to use. They partially restored it and added a narrow 80m long roadway to connect it to the mainland. Later, Emir Fakhreddine II, a 17th century Lebanese ruler, restored it again but it fell into ruin over the course of several wars. It now primarily consists of two crumbling towers linked by an outer wall, and old rusting canon balls can be found scattered inside.
Roman Bath Vestiges
In the middle of downtown Beirut (known as Berytus in Roman times) you can see the well-preserved remains of some Roman baths, which were unexpectedly discovered at the end of the 1960s. In Roman times, the complex would have consisted of a series of different baths at different temperatures, and using Street View you can still clearly see how they were heated. A wood fire in an adjacent room would feed hot air into an under-floor space created by a series of terracotta discs, which would then heat the marble tiling above and warm the room. These terracotta discs are still visible in the middle of the ruins.
A modern castle with an inspiring story, Moussa Castle is where the past meets the present in Lebanon. Its construction was the childhood dream and life's work of Moussa Maamari, who spent 21,900 days hand-building his own personal castle, after his childhood crush told him: “When you own a palace, you can talk to me”. Moussa found work renovating ancient castles and used the skills he learned to start making his daydreams a reality on a plot of land he bought in the Shouf mountains between Deir el-Qamar and Beiteddine. The medieval-style castle now contains a museum displaying a collection of weapons, wax figures, and historical Lebanese artifacts.