South Lebanon

December 17, 2011


South Lebanon

Southern Lebanon

Although the country is just over a tenth the size of my home state (smaller even than the country of Whales), the Catholics of the north often spoke of the south as if it were a world away. Many of Beirut’s Christians have never actually been to the south, remaining within the boundaries of their own sectarian neighborhoods. However, after the relatively short bus trip to the city of Saida, things were beginning to look quite a bit different. Beach side resorts and luxury hotels had transitioned to lush banana plantations and thick olive groves. A new skyline became jumbled with an increasing number of mosques and low rise cinderblock homes. Then the roads climbed and fell along the paths carved out through an ascending, mountainous terrain. From time to time I noticed especially large potholes along our path, potholes which I would later learn were the work of the 2006 Israeli bombing campaign.


The south is a land of striking views, colorful sunsets and friendly people, albeit a land deeply characterized by conflict. As any visitor should know, Lebanon’s meridional border area  frequently becomes the front line in an ongoing battle between Hezbollah and Israel. Even earlier this year Israeli troops shot at demonstrators on the Northern side of the boundary. Israeli’s footprint  has left more than just potholes and collapsed apartment buildings. The UN estimates that 15,300 items of unexploded miscellaneous ordinance still litter the south. These items include rockets and land mines, which cost about a dollar to install and $1,000 to remove. At the end of the 2006 war, sparked when Hezbollah ambushed an Israeli convoy, Israel refused to provide Lebanon with the map to the minefields they had installed. In addition to mines and rockets, the south is peppered with 800 separate cluster bomb sites. An estimated million cluster bomb-lets are left lying and waiting to be found. Human Rights Watch claims 90% of these were fired in the last 72 hours of the 2006 war. Cluster munitions, which are banned by the UN, frequently fail to explode when airborne but remain unstable on the ground. In 2007 an unusually heavy hail storm swept through Marjeyun, detonating several bombs in the area.


We first explored the city of Saida, a predominately Sunni area with a healthily handfull of ancient ruins dating back to Phoenician times.  In addition to castles and souks Saida is also famous for the massive Makab, an enormous trash heap reaching up to four stories in height. Originally a grave yard for bombed buildings, the site has become the city’s main garbage dump. As our bus passed it we could see the old retaining wall was being pushed over by the bloating mountain of garbage so that the wall itself become part of the mass.

This is an old crusader castle, reused to hold POW’s during the Lebanese civil war. Its much larger than it looks on the inside.

We wandered through what was once a rest stop for camel caravans moving along the old trade routes.

The city used to have a thriving boat industry, now only one family remains to practice the craft.

Our tour took us into the Souk where we came upon a room where biblical Peter was said to have spent time.

This is an ancient church that was just around the corner.

This store owner administers what looks to be a permanent garage sale.


It wasn’t long before we were traveling again, heading further south to the city of Tyre. The land between there and northern Israel has become one of the most heavily armed areas in the world. My friend and I exchanged glances as we passed two massive truck-mounted rockets pointing south along the highway. Then later, we eyed one of the UN’s armored personell carriers sitting next to the off ramp. Some 13,000 peace keeping troops have been deployed here to maintain order, tho they often become targets themselves. Upon one of my return visits I noticed that the personell carrier had barricaded itself within a wall of steel crates and we had joked that they “must be receiving more bomb threats.” That night, Tyre’s UN force was targeted twice by bombs and has been attacked multiple times since.

Tyre is a predominately Shia Muslim city. Sympathies here lie mainly with the Amel party. Their logo is below.

This is another very, very old church, which is rumored to have underground tunnels full of gold.

Tyre was established around 2750 BC as an island port city. It quickly developed into an important Phoenician trading center and began to draw a lot of attention. Nebuchadnezzar sieged the city for 13 years, and it survived, to fall later in an epic battle against Alexander the Great. Under an unrelenting storm of arrows his forces built a land bridge connecting the island to the mainland.

The column below was scared by modern warfare.

Much of the ancient city is now submerged in the Mediterranean. This diver makes his living by collecting and selling Roman coins from under the water.

In a location close to here, which I’ll be careful not to disclose, is a tiny metal shack on the beach. There stays a man with only his dog and his few essential material possessions. When he is hungary he catches fish from the sea and grills them on a piece of steel scrap.  My friend tells me he was once a rich man from the Beqaa but gave his wealth up to his family. Today he lives the simple life, occasionally offering his advice to the strangers who seek it.

This rusty lighthouse has fallen out of use. It is said that the lamp will be relit when the Palestinians can return to their homeland.

We had a tour of an ancient soap factory that is still in use today.

It had already been a long day by the time we came to the highlight of our tour. This is the al-Bass archeological site, which was, in part, discovered due to the mid 19th century flood of Palestinian refugees. They came by rail, evicted from their land and fleeing prosecution. But as they dug in and laid the foundations for their homes they unearthed scores of ancient sarcofagi. The site developed into what is now the largest roman grave yard in the world.

Amazing tile work.

This is what remains of the refugees old rail way that once connected Lebanon and Israel/Palestine.

Roman Sarcophaguses in the foreground, the al-Bass Palestinian refugee camp in the background.

The south is plastered with posters of Hassan Nasrallah, Ayatollah Khomeini, Yaser Arafat, and the faces of countless martyrs, but I had never seen these symbols before. “What are those flags inside the camp?” I asked my friend. He responded casually, “oh thats Hamas.”

Although the skulls have been looted, piles of bones can still be found inside the old tombs.

I’ve never seen/stepped on so many snails in my life.

This gigantic arch used to be the main entrance into the city.

To the side of the main road lies the largest and best preserved Roman Hippodrome in the world. The 500 meter track would draw up to 2000 spectators who came to watch gladiators massacre each other from racing chariots. Today the Hippodrome continues to entertain people with the occasional music festival.

Our Gladiators.

The ground under the stadium was speckled with flakes of ancient Roman pottery. We tested their authenticity by giving them a little lick. If you have a piece of natural clay or stone you’ll taste dirt, but the pottery will vacuum to your tongue.

Southern Lebanon is an area where Jesus was said to have spent much of his time. Christians and Catholics believe he performed his first miracle here, turning water into alcohol. West of Saida is the cave where he is thought to have gone into exile.

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5 Comments on “South Lebanon”

  1. Victor Tribunsky Says:

    Writing, photography and travel all seem to go hand in hand )
    Great post! Your writing makes me feel as if I were there


  2. ~mimo~ Says:

    wonderfully written and so well illustrated! great work and a pleasure to come across your blog!


  3. indiaphare Says:

    I love the South. I have actually been considering moving to Tyre at some point. The people were so friendly and it’s so beautiful. You are an amazing photographer, I love looking through your photos of the places I’ve been. You always seem to find a fresh angle.


  4. Andrea Says:

    Glad you visited my blog so that I could check out your amazing photography and writing. If I ever go to Lebanon, I know who to talk to. Such culture, wow!


  5. Maria Says:

    Really amaizing pictures ! I saw ur blog from Mélanie’s facebook. Gd luck !


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