Lebanon


Written by: The Prophet
Edited by: The Metallian

Lebanon, a nation that once proudly called itself the Switzerland of the
Middle East, is today a country in name only. Its government controls
little more than half of the nation's capital, Beirut. Its once-vibrant
economy is a shambles. And its society is fragmented - so fragmented, some
believe, that it may be impossible to re-create a unified state responsive
to the needs of all its varied peoples.

Lebanon lies on the eastern shore of the Mediterranea n Sea, in that part
of southwestern Asia known as the Middle East. Because of its location -
at the crossroads of Asia, Europe, and Africa - Lebanon has been the center
of commerce and trade for thousands of years. It has also been on the
route of numerous conquering armies.

With an area of 4,015 square miles, Lebanon is one of the smallest
countries in the Middle East. It is smaller than every state in the United
States except Delaware, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. Lebanon is
sandwiched between Syria in the north and east and Israel in the south.
The maximum distance from the nation's northern border to the southern one
is only 130 miles. And the maximum distance from the Mediterranean Sea to
the Lebanon-Syria border is 50 miles. In the south, along the border with
Israel, Lebanon's eastern border is only 20 miles from the sea.

Although a tiny land, Lebanon boasts a great diversity in its landscape
which makes it one of the most picturesque countries in the world. The
coast line is br oken by many bays and inlets of varying size. At some
points, the mountains wade silently right into the sea - then climb
suddenly tier on tier away from the Mediterranean to the sky. Because of
the limitation of flat agricultural land, all but the steepest hillsides
have been patiently and neatly terraced and planted with garlands of
twisted grapevines. The mountains lend a great variety of hues - pale
pink, rosy red, forest green or deep purple - to the landscape. Depending
on the time of day, they never appear the same twice, and from time to time
whipped white clouds hide all except their snow-capped peaks. Even on the
darkest night, the lights of the villages perched on the mountains shine in
small clusters as a reminder of their presence. On c loser view, the
mountains become a jumble of giant gorges, many of them over a thousand
feet deep, with rocky cliffs, steep ravines and awesome valleys. These
unassailable bastions have offered a secure hideaway, throughout history,
for hermits and persecuted groups seeking refuge.

Lebanon has four distinct geographical regions: a narrow - but fertile -
coastal plain; two roughly parallel mountain ranges that run the full
length of the country - the Lebanon, which rises in the west to an alpine
hei ght of 11,000 feet while the eastern range, the anti-Lebanon, is
crowned magestically by the snow-capped Mount Hermon at 9,232 feet. The
two chains of mountains shelter between them a well-cultivated plateau
extending seventy miles in length and fifteen miles in width. This
tableland is called the Bekaa. This is a fertile strip of land 110 miles
long and six to ten miles wide. Zahle, the third largest city in the
country, is in the valley. The country's two most important rivers, the
Litani and the Orontes, rise in the northern Bekaa near Baalbek, a city
that dates to Roman times. The Litani flows southwest through the Bekaa
Valley and then empties into the Mediterranean Sea north of Tyre. Its
waters are used for irrigation, so it becomes a mere tr ickle by the time
it gets to the sea. The Orontes rises not far from the Litani, but it
flows northward between the two mountain ranges, wending its way into
Syria. Beyond the Bekaa and the anti-Lebanon mountains, the Syrian desert
only stretches east f or about 800 miles to the valley of the Tigris and
Euphrates rivers. This geography has been a determining factor for
millenia in keeping Lebanon turned toward the West.

The landscape cannot be described without mentioning the most celebrated
tree o f Lebanon, the cedar. Called by the Lebanese "Cedar of the Lord,"
this famed tree retains somewhat of a sacred aura this day. It has become
the symbol of Lebanon and appears in the center of the flag, on the coins,
and often on postage stamps. Since an cient times the cedar constituted a
valuable export which provided King Solomon with timber for the
construction of his Temple, the Phoenicians with wood for their seafaring
galleys , the Egyptians with lumber for their palaces. Unhappily only a
few grov es