Culture of Lebanon

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Aerial photo of Beirut, Lebanon's capital
Rue Maarad is a main street in the central district
Palm trees at the seafront in Corniche Beirut
Sidewalk Cafes are a trademark of the BCD
A selection of Lebanese dishes from Cafe Nouf Restaurant in London
City of Zahlé at the eastern edge of the Mount Lebanon Range in eastern Lebanon

The culture of Lebanon and the Lebanese people emerged from various civilizations over thousands of years. It was home to the Phoenicians and was subsequently conquered and occupied by the Assyrians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Persians, the Arabs, the Crusaders, the Ottoman Turks and the French. This variety is reflected in Lebanon's diverse population, composed of different religious groups, and features in the country's festivals, musical styles, literature, cuisine of Lebanon and architecture of Lebanon. Tourism in Lebanon is popular with periods of interruption during conflict.

Despite the religious and denominational diversity of the Lebanese, they "share an almost common culture".[1] Based on Article 11 of the Constitution of Lebanon states: "Arabic is the official national language. A law determines the cases in which the French language is to be used." The spoken Lebanese is the language used in public which is a hybrid of the languages of the above-mentioned cultures, Food, music, and literature are deep-rooted "in wider Mediterranean and Levantine norms".[1]

The hilly Mediterranean Geography of Lebanon has played a role in shaping the history of Lebanon and its culture. Archaeology of Lebanon is conducted to explore the area's past.


By the turn of the 20th century, Beirut was vying with Cairo to be the major centre for Near Eastern and Middle Eastern thought, with many newspapers, magazines and literary societies. Additionally, Beirut became a thriving epicenter of Armenian culture with varied productions[2] that was exported to the Armenian diaspora.

Visual arts[edit]

Daoud Corm (1852-1930), Habib Serour (1860-1938) and Khalil Saleeby (1870-1928) are considered the first successful professional studio artists in Lebanon, with careers extending to Europe. All were trained outside Lebanon, with Corm and Serour attending Roman academies and Saleeby British and American ones. They were known for portraiture of Lebanese high society and men of religion, as well as Christian sacred art in the case of Corm and Serour.[3][4]

Mustafa Farroukh (1901-1957) was one of Lebanon's most prominent painters between the 1920s and the 1950s. Formally trained in Rome and Paris, he exhibited in venues from Paris to New York to Beirut over his career.[5]

Farid Mansour (1929-2010) was a Lebanese multi-talented painter and sculptor . Being trained in Italy and England, Mansour mastered several painting and sculpting techniques. His works were exhibited in London, Paris, New York as well as Lebanon and Syria.

Csontváry Kosztka, Tivadar - Pilgrimage to the Cedars of Lebanon

Contemporary art[edit]

Contemporary art started in Beirut immediately after the end of the civil war (1975-1991).

Many contemporary artists are currently active, such as Walid Raad, a contemporary media artist currently residing in New York.[6]

Two contemporary art exhibition centers, the Beirut Art Center and the Beirut Exhibition Center (does not exist anymore) in the BIEL area reflect the vibrant Lebanese contemporary art scene. These two centers are intended to host exhibitions and are a must in the world of international as well as local contemporary art. Many art galleries also add to the local art scene, exhibiting the works of artists such as Ayman Baalbaki,[7] Akram Zaatari,[8] Marwan Sahmarani,[9] Nadim Asfar,[10] Lamia Joreige,[11] Jean Marc Nahas,[12][13] Ricardo Mbarkho,[14] Mansour El-Habre,[15] Anita Toutikian and many others. These galleries are run by gallerists such as Saleh Barakat[16] (Agial), Galerie Mark Hachem,[17] Fadi Mogabgab,[18] Nadine Begdache (Galerie Janine Rubeiz),[19] Odile Mazloum (Galerie Alwane).[20]

Located in Foch Street in the Solidere area, FFA Private Bank is home to many temporary exhibitions of contemporary local artists as well as to a permanent display of paintings by Lebanese artists (Sahmarani, Baalbaki, Hanibal Srouji ... ) or foreign artists such as Fabienne Arietti's "Nasdaq".[21] A Jean Dubuffet's huge sculpture can also be seen when visiting the atrium of Bank Audi Plaza, located in a beautiful contemporary building designed by Kevin Dash. By Strolling through the streets of the city one can find some interesting works such as sculptures of Michel Basbous in the Bank of Lebanon street.

Ashkal Alwan, the Lebanese association for plastic arts and a platform for the creation and exchange of artistic practices. It was founded by Christine Tohmé, Marwan Rechmaoui, Rania Tabbara, Mustapha Yamout and Leila Mroueh. Initially, Ashkal Alwan promoted and introduced the work of artists who have been engaged in critical art practices within the context of post-war Lebanon. The Home Works Forum is a multidisciplinary platform that takes place in Beirut, Lebanon about every other year. it has evolved into one of the most vibrant platforms for research and exchange on cultural practices in the region and beyond.

Umam Documentation & Research runs an exhibition space (The Hangar) located at Haret Hreik, in Beirut's Southern suburb with extensive events.

In the field of digital art, the artist Ricardo Mbarkho investigates the transformation of cultural industries into creative industries.

In the field of photography, the Arab Image Foundation has a collection of +4000 photographs from Lebanon and the Middle East. The photographs can be viewed in a research center and various events and publications have been produced in Lebanon and worldwide to promote the foundation.


Architecture in Lebanon includes the legacies of various occupying powers including the Romans, Phoenicians, Ottomans and French, as well as post independence developments.

When the Ottomans exiled Fakhreddine to Tuscany, Italy in 1613, he entered an alliance with the Medicis. Upon his return to Lebanon in 1618, he began modernizing Lebanon. He developed a silk industry, upgraded olive-oil production, and brought with him numerous Italian engineers who began the construction of mansions and civil building throughout the country.[22] The cities of Beirut and Sidon were especially built in the Italianate style.[23]

The Italianate, specifically, Tuscan, influence on architecture in Lebanon dates back to the Renaissance when Fakhreddine, the first Lebanese ruler who truly unified Mount Lebanon with its Mediterranean coast executed an ambitious plan to develop his country.

The influence of these buildings, such as the ones in Deir el Qamar, influenced building in Lebanon for many centuries and continues to the present time. For example, streets like Rue Gouraud continues to have numerous, historic houses with Italianate influence.[24] Buildings like the Nicolas Sursock mansion on Rue Sursock, which is today a major museum, attest[citation needed] to the continuous influence of Italianate architecture in Lebanon.


Khalil Gibran (April 1913)

Khalil Gibran (1883–1931), who was born in Bsharri, is particularly known for his book The Prophet (1923), which has been translated into more than twenty different languages.[25] Several contemporary Lebanese writers have also achieved international success; including Elias Khoury, Amin Maalouf, Hanan al-Shaykh, and Georges Schehadé.

Several contemporary Lebanese writers [26]have also achieved international success; including Elias Khoury, Amin Maalouf, Hanan al-Shaykh, and Georges Schehadé. Raméz A. Baassiri, a contemporary writer of Lebanese origin, authored a book on Entrepreneurship titled "Interrupted Entrepreneurship: Embracing Change in the Family Business" on family business cycles. The book published with ForbesBooks, was voted the 88th best book of all time by Book Authority.[27][28][29][30][31]


There are many well known Lebanese poets that marked the history of poetry. For example, there is Gibran Khalil Gibran who wrote "Love" in 1920, "On Friendship" in 1923 and many more.[32]

Popular culture[edit]


Fairuz playing guitar

Music is famous in Lebanese society.[33] While traditional folk music remains popular in Lebanon, modern music reconciling Western and traditional Arabic styles, pop, and fusion are rapidly advancing in popularity.[34] Radio stations feature a variety of music, including traditional Lebanese, classical Arabic, Armenian[35] and modern French, English, American, and Latin tunes.[36] Prominent traditional musicians include Fairuz, an icon during the civil war, Sabah Melhem Barakat, Wadih El Safi, Majida El Roumi, and Najwa Karam who built an international audience for the genre.[33] Historical figure and Lebanese musical pioneer Lydia Canaan is listed in the catalog of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum's Library and Archives in Cleveland, Ohio, USA[37][38] as the first rock star of the Middle East.[38][39][40][41][42] Canaan's unique style fuses Middle-Eastern quarter notes and microtones with anglophone rock. Marcel Khalife, a musician who blends classical Arab music with modern sounds, boasts immense[43] popularity for his politically charged lyrics.[33][34] Distinguished pop artists include Nancy Ajram, Haifa Wehbe, Fadl Shaker, Elissa, and Mika.[33]

According to the World Intellectual Property Organization, Lebanon's music industry is growing and could attain leading status in the region.[44] Lebanese performers are celebrated throughout the Arab World,[45] and with the notable exception of Egypt enjoy increasing regional popularity.[44] Rising demand for Arabic music outside Western Asia has provided Lebanese artists with a small but significant global audience. However, widespread piracy continues to inhibit the music industry's growth.[44]


Lebanon is not only a regional center of media production but also the most liberal and free in the Arab world.[46] According to Press freedom's Reporters Without Borders, "the media have more freedom in Lebanon than in any other Arab country".[47] Despite its small population and geographic size, Lebanon plays an influential role in the production of information in the Arab world and is "at the core of a regional media network with global implications".[48]

After independence, Beirut emerged as the epicenter of publishing in the Arab world, characterized by free and liberal media and literary scenes.[49] Lebanon's press became a huge industry despite the country's small size and has remained a haven for Arabic publishing.[50] The establishment of modern printing presses and sophisticated book distribution channels made Beirut a regional publishing leader, and gave the Lebanese publishers a dominant role in Arab publishing.[51] Lebanon hosts annually two important regional publishing events, the Beirut Book Fair and the Beirut Francophone Book Fair.[52]

Television in Lebanon was introduced in 1959, with the launch of two privately owned stations, CLT and Télé Orient that merged in 1967 into Télé Liban.[53] Lebanon has ten national television channels, with most being affiliated or supported by certain political parties or alliances.

Lebanon was one of the first countries in the Arabic-speaking world to introduce internet. Lebanese Photographers like Said Mhamad have become popular all across world because of Internet and social media.[54][55] Beirut's newspapers were the first in the region to provide readers with web versions of their newspapers. By 1986, three newspapers from Lebanon were online, Al Anwar, Annahar, and Assafir, and by 2000, more than 200 websites provided news out of Lebanon.[48]


Cinema of Lebanon, according to film critic and historian, Roy Armes, was the only other cinema in the Arabic-speaking region, beside Egypt's, that could amount to a national cinema.[56] Cinema in Lebanon has been in existence since the 1920s, and the country has produced over 500 films,[57] some of which are:


Lebanese theatre has its origin in passion plays. The musical plays of Maroun Naccache from the mid-1800s are considered the birth of modern Arab theatre.[58] Some scholars like Abdulatif Shararah divided theatre in Lebanon into three phases: translations of European plays, Arab nationalism, and realism.[59]

Cultural relations between Lebanon and Egypt[edit]

The cultural relations between Lebanon and Egypt is considered a unique kind of cultural historical relations, Because there is a considerable overlap between the Lebanese and Egyptian cultures, especially in the fields of literature, theater, cinema and journalism, all of them played an integral role towards each other especially in theater, cinema and journalism, that's what was confirmed by the Conference Egypt in the eyes of the Lebanese and which is Within the activities of the cultural program Egypt in the eyes of the World . Which is held at the headquarters of the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism, and in the presence of the Lebanese Ambassador in Egypt, Madeleine Tabar and Ahmed Ghanem founder of cultural program Egypt in the eyes of the World and an elite of Lebanese artists.[60]


Many Christians and most Muslims who live in the cities wear modern stylish clothes. In the countryside, women sometimes wear traditional colorful skirts and men wear a traditional sherwal (baggy trousers). Dress was historically Ottoman, but remains only as part of the folk culture. Today, almost all Lebanese wear modern clothing.

Famous names in the Lebanese fashion industry include Elie Saab, Zuhair Murad, Darin Hachem, Reem Acra, and Rabih Kayrouz

Holidays and festivals[edit]

Lebanon celebrates national holidays and both Christian and Muslim holidays.

Christian holidays are celebrated following both the Gregorian Calendar and Julian Calendar. Greek Orthodox, Catholics (Maronite and Melkite), and Protestant Christians follow the Gregorian Calendar and thus celebrate Christmas on 25 December. Armenian Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on 6 January, as they follow the Julian Calendar.

Muslim holidays are followed based on the Islamic lunar calendar. Muslim holidays that are celebrated include Eid al-Fitr (the three-day feast at the end of the Ramadan month), Eid al-Adha (The Feast of the Sacrifice) which is celebrated during the annual pilgrimage to Mecca and also celebrates Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son to God, the Birth of the Prophet Muhammad, and Ashura. Lebanon's National Holidays include Workers Day, Independence day, and Martyrs Day.

Music festivals, often hosted at historical sites, are a customary element of Lebanese culture.[61] Among the most famous are Baalbeck International Festival, Byblos International Festival, Beiteddine International Festival, Broumana Festival, Batroun Festival, Dhour Chwer Festival and Tyr Festival.[61][62] These festivals are promoted by Lebanon's Ministry of Tourism, Lebanon Hosts about 15 Concerts from International Performers Each Year Ranking Number one for Nightlife in the Middle east and 6th Worldwide.[63]


An array of Lebanese cuisine.

Lebanese cuisine is similar to those of many countries in the Eastern Mediterranean, such as Syria, Turkey, Greece, and Cyprus.

The Lebanese national dishes are the kibbe, a meat pie made from finely minced lamb and burghul (cracked wheat), and the tabbouleh, a salad made from parsley, tomatoes, and burghul. The national beverage is arak, a strong anise-flavored liquor made from fermented grape juice. It is usually drunk with water and ice, which turns the clear liquid milky-white, and usually accompanies food. Arak is a strong spirit similar to the Greek ouzo and the Turkish raki.

Lebanese restaurant meals begin with a wide array of mezze - small savoury dishes, such as dips, salads, and pastries. The mezze are typically followed by a selection of grilled meat or fish. In general, meals are finished with Arabic coffee and fresh fruit, though sometimes a selection of traditional sweets will be offered as well.

M'Juhdara, a thick stew of onions, rice, and lentils, is sometimes considered poor man's fare and is often eaten around Lent by people in the Lebanese diaspora.

Beirut and its environs contain many restaurants of various national origins. At the same time, wine is growing in popularity and a number of vineyards currently exist in the Bekaa valley and elsewhere. Beer is also highly popular and Lebanon produces a number of local beers, of which almaza is perhaps the most popular.

Food in daily life[edit]

Lebanese cuisine is influenced by other Mediterranean cuisines. Pita bread is a staple. The Lebanese enjoy hummus (a chick pea dip), fool (a fava bean dip), and other bean dishes. Rice is nearly a staple and pasta is popular. Salted yogurt is common in many dishes. Red meat and chicken are common but are usually eaten as part of a dish. Eating in Lebanon is tied to family: people almost never eat alone. The Lebanese consider eating out a social and almost aesthetic experience. During Lent, Christians eat meatless dishes and at Saint Barbara, they eat a variety of wheat-based dishes. Lebanon sells fruits and vegetables to neighboring Arab countries, as well as to Italy, France, and the United States. Wine is produced in the Bekaa and exported to Europe[citation needed].


Lebanese society is similar to certain cultures of the Mediterranean as the country is uniquely diverse religiously .[64] It is often considered as Europe's gateway to Western Asia as well as Asia's gateway to the Western World.[65]

Mixed-sex groups of youth are very common especially in Verdun, Hamra Street, Ashrafieh, and downtown Beirut as well as other places. Premarital physical sexual relations are very common, although intercourse is frowned upon and avoided by both Muslim and Christian girls.

The contraceptive prevalence rate is estimated at 58%, of which 34% modern contraceptives, primarily IUDs, pills and condoms.[66] Prostitution in Lebanon is nominally legal.[67]

By comparison to most other Arab capitals, Beirut is more modern and more culturally liberal. Compared to Damascus, Cairo, and Baghdad, and especially in contrast to such cities as Riyadh, Beirut is more tolerant with regard to relations between men and women, and also with regard to homosexuality.[citation needed]

Notwithstanding the persistence of traditional attitudes regarding the role of women, Lebanese women enjoy equal civil rights and attend institutions of higher education in large numbers (for example, women constituted 41 percent of the student body at the American University of Beirut in 1983). Although women in Lebanon have their own organizations, most exist as subordinate branches of the political parties.

While gay sex does not enjoy wide acceptance, Beirut has a number of gay bars and nightclubs, in addition to five LGBT rights organizations, namely Helem, Arab Foundation for Equality (AFE), Nasawiya-Feminist Collective, Proud Lebanon, and Mosaïque.[citation needed]


In 2009, the country hosted the Francophone Games, which took place in the capital, Beirut.

See also[edit]


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External links[edit]