Lebanon is the smallest acknowledged country on the Asian continent. What it lacks in size, however, it compensates for in its history of unrest. To understand the Lebanese people, one must look far back into the history of the land before it was the mass of contradictions it is today. Life on this plot of the Mediterranean coast predates recorded history. But is there a modern identity to claim? The answer is as complex as the people.
Archaeologists theorize that humans have been occupying the area now known as Lebanon for as long as 7000 years. From 1550 to 539 B.C.E., the country was home to the Canaanite and Phoenician kingdoms. Both were trade and agriculture-based cultures, with the Phoenicians using the cedar trees of Lebanon to build maritime fleets.
Fast forward to 64 B.C.E. and the land had become part of the Roman Empire, and one of its leading religious centers. From Pantheon to Church, Maronites constituted the majority of the population of what then became Mount Lebanon. As Arab Muslims conquered the region, Maronites struggled to hold onto their identity, and eventually gained access to the Roman Catholic Church. The settlement of Muslims in the same land, however, caused a divide which arguably persists today.
From 1516 to 1918 C.E., Lebanon was under Ottoman rule. This added further complexity to an already complex and divided identity. With the Ottomans came the concept of class division between land owner and worker, the upper class and working class. Lebanon had become home to different religions and sects, and identity was multi-faceted and layered.
With the fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1918 as a result of World War I came the French colonization of Lebanon. Another culture, education system and way of life was imposed on the Lebanese people. The country had now expanded and included southern and northern Lebanon. The country had now started looking much as it does today.
Lebanon gained independence from France in 1943. The problem of identity came prominently into focus for the first time. Should the Lebanese embrace what it meant to be French or should they hold onto what was now an Arab identity colored by Ottoman Islamic heritage? The question caused a further rift between people struggling to hold onto the past and those who were embracing the modernity of the time.
It is perhaps no surprise that a country now divided by culture, religion, history and massive emigration from Palestine fell into a civil war, which lasted from 1975 to 1990. Before the war, Beirut experienced a boom in culture and tourism. The civil war, however, was an ugly wake-up call to people living in a country that had been perceived as almost perfect in many ways, a haven for tourists of the region and dubbed the “Switzerland of the east”.
Religious bias and tension was greatly exacerbated by the Civil War, as it was a pure show of religious based discrimination and brutality. Many Lebanese leaders became warlords, the unrest encouraged corruption and identity became about religious loyalty. The war also resulted in massive numbers of Lebanese youth emigrating in search of a better life. This migration also added further cultural diversity to the Lebanese people.
Fast forward to the 21st century: in 2005, Prime Minister Rafic Al Hariri was assassinated; he was leading Lebanon to recovery through investment and the promotion of tolerance between sects and regions. His efforts resulted in the resurrection of Downtown Beirut, the creation of Rafic Hariri International Airport and the education of hundreds via scholarships. His untimely death left the Lebanese people in further frustration and doubt. The following year, 2006, the Israeli government attacked Lebanon.
Now, in 2017, the Lebanese people face the identity crises that come with globalization. Many Lebanese youth are stuck between contemporary and traditional religious ideals, and also struggle with the generation gap between themselves and the ruling elders. The youth are hyper-aware of what life is like outside of Lebanon, and what is lacking in their country.
This results in another division of identity: those who struggle to reconcile their ideals with a war-torn Lebanon, and those who leave the country. Many have fought against a government they perceive to be old-fashioned. The country is at a turning point, with the rapid movement of youth towards a secularized Lebanon after the horror of living in a country divided by religious extremism.
To many, religious bias is at the core of contemporary Lebanon’s lack of identity. The clear divisions hinder the development of a purely Lebanese identity. Many Lebanese, however, still believe that the country that can be united by tolerance, and that the real problem is corrupt politics.
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.