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