Lebanon: Pearl of the Levant

Two weeks ago, I traveled to Beirut and gave a presentation at the 2016 Arab-German Young Academy (AGYA) conference, “Insatiable Appetite: Food as a Cultural Signifier.” While I very much enjoyed the conference and related activities, seeing Lebanon’s capital for the first time trumped it all. From the posh downtown Centre Ville quarter, to the seaside corniche, to the bohemian quarter Jemmayzeh (think Adam’s Morgan in Washington, DC), it was difficult to choose which photos to post from the hundreds I took while visiting this beautiful country:

One of the most intriguing spots is the downtown area surrounding Martyr’s Square statue, which commemorates those executed under Ottoman rule and which served as the urban dividing line during the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990). Across the street from the statue are the Mohammad al-Amin Mosque and the St. George Maronite Cathedral, built right next to each other in an effort (some would say a forced one) to demonstrate peaceful coexistence between Lebanese Christians and Muslims. The Armenian Church stands just a few blocks away, and at night the reflecting pool throws back images of the whole area lit up for display.

Another noteworthy stop, and one with a more local feel, was Souk El Ahad, the “Sunday Market” open only on weekends and which amounts to a giant convenient store spread out over dozens of kiosks. Sellers truck in wares like basic foodstuffs, music and electronics, clothes and appliance hardware. The souk is decidedly not geared for tourists:

During and after the conference, I also trekked outside Beirut to a few places in the mountain region of Beqaa, plus Byblos and Tyre along the coast. Churches large and small dot Christian quarters of these towns, as do mosques in the Muslim areas. While in Saghbine, I stopped and chatted with Daniel, a mechanic whose family has lived for generations in the small town:

Of course a post about my trip to Lebanon wouldn’t be complete without a few images from the AGYA conference. Over the course of four days we visited several spots in Lebanon, including the Litani River and the mountainside town of Saghbine in the Beqaa province, to eat hummus and chat about the cultural implications of food.

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