Lebanon has a long and rich history. It was the land of the great Phoenician civilization, of the storied cities of Sidon and Tyre, and of Byblos, the oldest city in the world. In The Iliad and The Odyssey, Homer mentions Phoenicia as one of the most important lands in the ancient, Greek-speaking world, a major centre of commerce and trade. The country’s magnificent cedar trees—referred to in the Bible as “the glory of Lebanon”—were used as construction materials for Solomon's Temple, Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock, and the Ark of the Covenant.
With its wealth, culture and vital seaports, Lebanon has always been coveted by other nations. Control of the area has transferred from one power to another, from the Phoenicians to the Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Macedonians, the Romans, the Mamluks, the Crusaders and the Ottomans. In modern times, it became a French Mandate after the Ottoman Empire was dissolved and partitioned after its defeat in World War I. It gained its independence as a parliamentary republic during World War II.
Lebanon’s two major religions are Christianity and Islam, though the country also has small Jewish, Druze, Buddhist, Bahá’í and Hindu communities. It is because of these many diverse religions that Lebanon developed a special government system, called Confessionalism, to minimize sectarian tension. In this system, 18 recognized religious groups have elected officials within the governing body, which is equally divided between the Muslims and Christians. High-ranking positions are reserved for representatives from specific religious groups. It has been agreed upon that the President shall be a Maronite (Lebanese Catholic), the Prime Minister a Sunni Muslim, and the Speaker of the Parliament a Shiite Muslim.
Lebanon is a narrow country on the Mediterranean coast, bordered by Palestine and Syria. It is divided into 4 geographic regions. Going from west to east, the first is the Lebanese Coastal Plain, which combines the majestic beauty of Lebanon’s mountains and the sunny splendour of the Mediterranean Sea. The coastal cities of Sidon and Byblos (Jbeil) have submerged Roman and Phoenician ruins, best explored through diving or snorkelling expeditions.
Many people find it difficult to believe that Lebanon has snow, but it does, especially in the peaks of the country's second geographic region, the Mount Lebanon Range. In fact, it is these snowy peaks that gave Lebanon its name—from "lubnan", the Arabic word for white. The Mount Lebanon Range is home to not only one, but six world-class ski resorts: Cedars Ski Resort, found near Mount Makmel along the country's highest range, Faraya-Mzaar on Mount Sannine, Laqlouq, Qanat Bakish, Faqra, and Zaarour. A popular hiking trail can be found in the region of Chouf.
Beqaa Valley is the breadbasket of Lebanon. Fields of wheat and corn flourish here, and apples, pears, olives, tomatoes, and potatoes are grown in abundance. It is also famous for its vineyards and wineries, particularly those in Ksara, Kefraya, and Massaya. The town of Baalbek is famous for its temple ruins. Once a site of worship to the Phoenician sun god Baal, it was renamed Heliopolis in Greco-Roman times and is one of Lebanon’s greatest historic sites.
The last geographic region is the Anti-Lebanon Range, so named because of the arid mountains that stretch from the east of Beqaa to Lebanon's eastern border with Syria.
The country is also divided into the governorates of North Lebanon, Beirut, Mount Lebanon, Beqaa, An Nabatiyah, and South Lebanon.
Lebanon suffered heavy damages and considerable loss of life during its recent, 15-year civil war. Rafic Hariri, who was elected Prime Minister in 1992, led the country through its post-war recovery. His leadership was not without controversy and allegations of corruption, but he is widely regarded as having overseen Lebanon’s reconstruction. His assassination in 2005 triggered the Cedar Revolution, which resulted in the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon—Syrian military presence and political influence had been in the country since the outbreak of the civil war in 1975—and the disbanding of the pro-Syrian government.
The month-long war in 2006 between Israel and the Hezbollah was another blow to Lebanon’s recovering economy. Currently, the nation is undergoing intensive long-term reconstruction and development, and is fast regaining its status as a tourism centre. It has also attracted property buyers because of the relatively low prices, though real estate values have been seeing significant increases in the last few years.