Lebanon and the Sea
To the Lebanese people, the sea is everything. Lebanon just wouldn’t be Lebanon without the sea, a notion that comes from the country’s geography, history, and lengthy coastline. The sea has shaped Lebanon’s culture, tradition, and economy, and as such, is a fundamental part of Lebanon’s identity.
Lebanon boasts 225 kilometers of coastline to its west, all of which sits on the eastern Mediterranean Sea. Rocky and dramatic, Lebanon’s coastline is a sight in itself, and best viewed from the water.
From the capital, Beirut, up through Batroun and Tripoli, Lebanon’s coastline is dotted with beautiful and historic port cities, seaside resorts, imposing cliffs, and sandy beaches. The long coastline of Lebanon has the power to enchant you and capture your imagination, whether you find yourself gazing out into the sparkling waters, or floating at sea, admiring the landscape ashore.
Lebanon’s coastline has, historically, been one of its most valuable assets and strategic elements, and as such, has played a significant role in developing Lebanon’s distinct and lengthy maritime history.
Lebanon sits at the crossroads of civilization, near the fertile crescent, on a stretch of land historically used to link Africa, the Middle East, and Europe. Lebanon’s geography is diverse, and includes a long sea coast on the Mediterranean, high rocky peaks, the dramatic Beqaa Valley, and a countryside scattered with rocks, cedars, and ruins. Lebanon’s striking coastline is complimented by the mountain range, which runs parallel to the coast, dominating the landscape and forming the most distinct geographical formation in the country.
Due to its geographical location, Lebanon enjoys long, hot, humid summers, perfect for spending time on the sea. Summer is the most popular season for sailing and activities on the sea, but mild winters afford a sea jaunt or two, for those compelled by the beautiful coastline.
The land and the early people of Lebanon – the Phoenicians – have been linked to the water for thousands of years. With a civilization that predates recorded history, the Phoenicians had a strong maritime culture from about 5000 to 539 BC. Thousands of years later, the Lebanese maintain a dedicated relationship with the Mediterranean, one that has evolved with the country.
In ancient times, Lebanon’s strategic location rendered it a critical trade link between the Mediterranean and India and East Asia. Merchants used Lebanon’s port cities to transport items from the East to the Western markets, resulting in the progressive and cosmopolitan development of many of Lebanon’s port cities.
Economics and the Sea
Lebanon’s geographical position has significantly influenced the economy of the region, dating from the merchant times to modern day economies. The ports of Lebanon have, for centuries, facilitated a trade and merchant-based economy, allowing Lebanon to thrive on the business of importing and exporting. This has continued into modern times, and although the sea is less influential now, Lebanon is still considered to be a gateway to the east, with the primary focus now being on banking and commerce-related activities.
In addition to being shaped by the merchant activity of the sea and its ports, Lebanon’s other economic link with the sea is through tourism. Tourism is a component of Lebanon’s largest economic sector, the service industry. Accounting for nearly 60% of Lebanon’s GDP, the service sector includes tourism, which is heavily attributed to Lebanon’s geography and coastline. The Mediterranean and its impressive coast is a natural attraction for tourists from around the world, who head to Lebanon to enjoy the beaches, go boating, or sail on the sparkling waters. Although it has evolved through time, Lebanon’s economy is strongly linked to the sea, and always will be.
Lebanon’s civil war and political unrest in the mid 20th century prompted a number of marinas to cease operations, however in the years since, many marinas have reopened and recommenced catering to sea-loving residents and tourists. Lebanon’s coastline is now dappled with marinas, resorts, and yacht clubs, many of which offer public sailing excursions and courses.
Many of Lebanon’s modern marinas epitomize luxury and opulence, and represent the Lebanese attitude towards the sea. The most popular and luxurious marinas are near the capital, Beirut, and although many operate on a membership basis, tourists can pay a daily fee to access facilities and spend the day on the water.
Despite the relatively stable political situation, there are still issues that plague marinas today. The Saint-George’s Yacht Club Marina, a staple of Beirut’s seaside since the 1930s, is embroiled in a battle with the government to save their right to the marina.
Other marinas, like La Marina Joseph Khoury and the Lebanese Yacht Club are perfect places to spend some of the 300 sunny days Lebanon experiences each year.