The Republic of Lebanon or Lebanon is a small, largely mountainous country situated at the eastern edge of the Mediterranean Sea, in an area referred to as the Middle East (or Southwest Asia). It is bordered by Syria on the east and north, and Israel on the south, with a narrow coastline on its west.
The country was named after Mount Lebanon; the word “lebanon” (also “Loubnan” or “Lebnan”) comes from the Aramaic word laban which means “white” and refers to snow-capped mountains. An Arabic cognate of the word laban also means “yogurt”.
The red stripes symbolize the pure blood shed in the aim of liberation. The white stripe symbolizes peace, and the white snow covering Lebanon’s mountains. The green cedar (Arz) symbolizes immortality and steadiness. This cedar is referenced many times in the Bible: “The righteous flourish like the palm tree, and grow like a cedar in Lebanon” (Psalms 92:12).
» Area: 10,452 sq. km. (4,036 sq. mi.), about the size of Connecticut.
» Coastline: 225Km. (140mi.)
» Cities: Capital–Beirut (pop. 1.5 million). Other cities–Tripoli (275,000), Sidon (110,000), Tyre (60,000), Zahleh (68,000).
» Terrain: Narrow coastal plain backed by the Lebanon Mountains, the fertile Bekaa Valley, and the Anti-Lebanon Mountains, which extend to the Syrian border. Land–61% urban, desert, or waste; 21% agricultural; 8% forested.
» Climate: Typically Mediterranean, resembling that of southern California.
Most of Lebanon has a Mediterranean climate, with warm, dry summers, and cool, wet winters, although the climate varies somewhat across the landform belts. The coastal plain is subtropical, with 900 mm (35 in) of annual rainfall and a mean temperature in Beirut of 27°C (80°F) in summer and 14°C (57°F) in winter. In the Lebanon Mountains, temperatures decrease and precipitation increases with elevation: Heavy winter snows linger well into summer, making the Lebanon Mountains more pleasant in the summer than the humid coast; higher altitudes receive as much as 1,300 mm (50 in) of annual precipitation. The Bekáa Valley and the Anti-Lebanon Mountains are situated in the rain shadow of the Lebanon Mountains and as a result have hot, dry summers and cold winters with occasional rain.
»Nationality: Noun and adjective–Lebanese (sing. and pl.).
»Population (2005 est.): 3.8 million.
»Annual growth rate (2005 est.): 1.3%.
»Ethnic groups: Arab 95%, Armenian 4%, other 1%.
»Religions: Christian (Maronite, Greek Orthodox, Greek Catholic, Roman Catholic, Protestant, Armenian Apostolic, other), Muslim (Sunni, Shi’a, other), and Druze.
»Languages: Arabic (official), French, English, Armenian.
»Education: Years compulsory–8. Attendance–99%. Literacy–87.4%.
»Health: Infant mortality rate–24.5/1,000 (2005). Life expectancy–male, 70.1 yrs; female 75.2 yrs.
»Work force (1.6 million excluding foreign labor, 2001): Industry, commerce, services–70%; agriculture–20%; government–10%.
Lebanon has been a major crossroads of civilizations for millennia, so it is perhaps unsurprising that this small country would possess an extraordinarily rich and vibrant culture. Lebanon’s wide array of ethnic and religious groups contributes to the country’s rich cuisine, musical and literary traditions, and festivals. Beirut in particular has a very vibrant arts scene, with numerous performances, exhibits, fashion shows, and concerts held throughout the year in its galleries, museums, theaters, and public spaces. Lebanese society is modern, educated, and very comparable to other European societies of the Mediterranean. Despite their European resemblance, the Lebanese are proud of their Levantine heritage and have made Lebanon and in particular Beirut, the cultural center of the Arab world. Most Lebanese are bilingual, speaking Arabic and French; however, English has become very popular, especially among university students. The country is not only where Christianity intermingles with Islam but Lebanon is also the Arabs gateway to Europe and the Europeans bridge to the Arab world.
Several international festivals are held in Lebanon, featuring world-renowned artists and drawing crowds from Lebanon and abroad. Among the most famous are the summer festivals at Baalbeck, Beiteddine, and Byblos, where the elite and eclectic line-ups perform against the backdrop of some of Lebanon’s most famous and spectacular historical sites.