NATIONAL MUSEUM AND THE CEDARS
“When I was a kid,” says Dr. Marwan Abouljoud of his childhood in steamy Beirut I remember it being so hot that I used to sweat right through a shower.”
We dove headfirst in a few heat-beating techniques when confronted with similar conditions; beside the expanse of the Mediterranean, accessible from numerous beaches up and down the coast, a blistering day was a perfect excuse for a little brain candy; six hundred years of history at the National Museum of Beirut at the corner Rue de Damas & Avenue Abdallah Yafi. The collections are so strikingly displayed and well-lit that even visitors with only a rudimentary interest in Lebanese history are drawn in; if you’ve got the museum bug to begin with, you’ll be instantly seduced. Ahiram's sarcophagus, for example, shows the oldest known inscription in the Phoenician script, the predecessor of our English alphabet. Recent renovations make the two floors easy to access and logically laid out; rooms cover the different civilizations that have had presence in Lebanon from prehistory onward, including Phoenician, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, an the Mamluk Period during the Arab conquests. Beside sarcophagi, displayed items include ancient tools, mosaics, statues, jewelry, woodwork, ceramics and coins. And yeah, it’s suitably air conditioned.
From there, it was a long drive to The Cedars, a resort settlement in Lebanon's highest mountain range—one of the most dramatically beautiful spots in the country. Its centerpiece is an ancient grove of cedars, a tree synonymous for millennia with Lebanon itself, and the main focus of the Lebanese flag, but our route was filled with hairpin curves leading past the entrance path of the Qadisha grotto and Bsharre, birthplace of Gibran Khalil Gibran; equally stunning vistas. Of the trees themselves, only isolated patches are found in Lebanon today, so a glimpse of them in their former majesty is well worth the three hour drive from Beirut.
Only glitch was Dr. Marwan’s head-shaking amusement of any group who would only spend an hour at the national landmark; unfortunately, we were beholden to a shooting schedule. “Nobody makes a six hour roundtrip and then leaves,” he laughed when he heard about the trip. “We used to spend a week there!”