Architecture is what mostly remains of Lebanon’s past. Byblos was the first city ever built entirely of stone and there are still traces of this very early architecture, going back thousands of years, and now mostly hidden under Roman ruins. Most of the architectural treasures have been damaged or even destroyed during one of the many wars that have been fought in this region over the centuries. In addition, several earthquakes have brought destruction.
Despite being in ruins, Baalbek, in the Beqaa Valley, is one of the most impressive Roman sites in the Middle East. The Great Jupiter Temple and the Great Bacchus Temple took well over a century to build, starting in 60 BCE. Not far from these temples is also one of the two remaining Umayyad ruins, the Great Mosque, built partly with stones from the Roman temples in the 7th and 8th centuries. The other Umayyad building is in Anjar, also in the Beqaa Valley. What is left here of the Umayyad city dates back to the 8th century.
The crusaders and those who fought them were also builders. The crusaders built churches and fortresses. One of these churches is the 12th-century St John the Baptist in Byblos, a Romanesque-style structure, although one of the portals is in typical 18th-century Arab style. Not far off is the Crusader Castle, built by the Franks in the 12th century.
In the northern city of Tripoli are the remains of the Citadel of Raymond de Saint-Gilles (12th century). Two centuries later, the Great Mosque arose on the ruins of the crusader cathedral St Mary of the Tower. This is the oldest and largest Mamluk mosque in Lebanon. Next to it is Lebanon’s oldest madrassa.
Throughout the centuries, Lebanese rulers built castles and mosques as well as khans or caravanserais. One of the best preserved is Khan al-Franj (17th century), built by Emir Fakhr al-Din in Sidon. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the Beiteddine Palace in the Chouf Mountains was built as the residence of Emir Bashir the Great, of the Chehab dynasty. Originally, this building, famous for its mosaics, was a Druze hermitage.
Some houses dating from the 18th and 19th centuries may still be seen in parts of Tripoli and Beirut. Contemporary architecture is mainly functional and not very different from what is seen in other parts of the world.