Baalbeck, City of the Sun awaits

Delegates will be greeted at the opening ceremony in the magnificent gardens of Sursock Palace, the grandest of Beirut’s town houses when it was built in 1860.

The palace is one of the few remaining villas from that era left in Sursock Street, named after the dynastic Sursock family, which owned swathes of land across the Middle East in the nineteenth century.

Then, after a hard day at the business sessions on Friday, delegates will be treated to a ‘Lebanese night’ at the ancient city of Byblos -- one of the world’s oldest continually inhabited towns.

First settled in the fifth millennium BC, the region was colonised by the Phoenicians in the third millennium and became closely allied to Egypt during the age of the Pharoahs.

Byblos got its name from the Greek word for ‘books’ -- biblia -- from its role in the papyrus trade in Phoenician times, and is the origin of the English word ‘Bible’.

The city is also hailed by some as the birthplace of the linear alphabet, precursor to the Roman alphabet used by the Western world today. After Egypt, control of Byblos passed to the Greeks and Assyrians, and later to the Eastern Roman Empire until the Islamic invasion of 636AD. The Crusaders in the twelfth century, and the Turks four hundred years later made their own additions to the city’s rich archaeological remains.

The Temple of Balaat Gebal, which dates from the fourth millennium BC, the Roman theatre from the third century AD and the 12th century Crusader castle are just some of the attractions in this ancient city.

With all the hard work wrapped up by Sunday, delegates will enjoy a day’s excursion to the Roman ruins at Baalbeck in the Bekaa valley.

The ‘City of the Sun’, as the Romans and ancient Greeks called it, was originally the site of a Phoenician temple, dedicated to the god Baal, and was the centre for a cult of sacrifice. Construction of the Roman temples -- the largest ever built -- began in the first century AD, and were converted to a Christian basilica in the fourth century.

The Temple of Bacchus, built in the second century, is particularly well preserved. So-called after the scenes of the Roman god of wine Bacchus, which are carved on the temple, the temple was actually dedicated to Astarte, the Phoenician goddess, known as Aphrodite to the Greeks and Venus to the Romans.

Lunch will be served at a winery in the Bekaa valley -- one of the world’s oldest wine production centres.

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