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Jeita, Harissa & Byblos

Jaita grotto, Keserwan in the mountains

Jeita Grotto is one of the world’s largest collections of stalagmites and stalactites. We took a cable to visit the upper cavern then took a ride on a small train to the lower cavern where we boarded small boats for a cave tour (this is closed when the flood levels rise too high). The Jeita Grotto cave system extends around 6km into the mountains 18km, northeast of Beirut. Discovered in 1836 and opened as a tourist attraction in 1969, the caves were used as an ammunition store during the civil war, despite the flooding from the Nahr El Kalb (or Dog River) for which they form the source.
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Harissa, Our Lady of Lebanon

We took a cable car up to the heights of Keserwan district (more than 600m). We had panoramic views of the coast and visited the large 20 ton bronze statue that overlooks the bay of Jounieh. Erected at the end of the 19th Century, the statue of the Virgin Mary dominates a sanctuary (a chapel in the pedestal). The shrine honours the 50th anniversary of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception declared by Pope Pius IX. Outside is a curled staircase that leads up to the base of the Virgin Mary where you have panoramic views over the coast.

Byblos (Jbeil)

Byblos is located on a cliff of sandstone 40 km North of Beirut. It’s a pretty fishing port with an ancient harbour, medieval town centre, Crusader-era castle and atmospheric archaeological site with a Roman amphitheatre and Venetian ruins. It has been closely linked to the legends and history of the Mediterranean region for thousands of years. We walked along the network of medieval alleyways with narrow souks that lead down to a Phoenician harbour. Continuously inhabited since Neolithic times, the ruins are of many successive civilizations. Byblos bears witness to the beginnings of the Phoenician civilization and it was their capital. The evolution of the town is evident in the structures that are scattered around the site, dating from the different periods, including the medieval town intra-muros, and antique dwellings. Byblos has a history of uninterrupted construction from the first settlement by a community of fishermen dating back 8000 years, through the first town buildings, the monumental temples of the Bronze Age, to the Persian fortifications, the Roman road, Byzantine churches, the Crusade citadel and the Medieval and Ottoman town. The ruined town bears evidence of war with many canon balls stuck in the walls. Byblos is also directly associated with the history and diffusion of the Phoenician alphabet. The origin of our contemporary alphabet was discovered in Byblos with the most ancient Phoenician inscription carved on the sarcophagus of Ahiram. Many fish fossils aged over 100 million years have been excavated in the town and we visited a shop that was selling the genuine fossils. We enjoyed a fish lunch and then strolled around the harbour and town.
Passage through Antiquity A Voyage of Discovery - Lebanon