Beirut (Arabic: بيروت, French: Beyrouth) is the capital city of Lebanon with a population of approximately 2.1 million people in its metropolitan area. The city is on a relatively small headland jutting into the east Mediterranean. It is by far the biggest city in Lebanon. Due to Lebanon's small size the capital has always held the status as the only true cosmopolitan city in the country, and ever since the independence, has been the commercial and financial hub of Lebanon. 20km to its North is Jounieh, a city very closely associated with Beirut.
Beirut has survived a rough history, falling under the occupation of one empire after another,. Originally named Bêrūt, "The Wells" by the Phoenicians, Beirut's history goes back more than 5000 years. Excavations in the downtown area have unearthed layers of Phoenician, Hellenistic, Roman, Arab and Ottoman civilizations. Following World War II, Lebanon gained its independence from France and Beirut became its capital in 1943 - Bechara El-Khoury and Riad El-Solh, Lebanon's first president and prime minister respectively, are considered the founders of the modern Republic of Lebanon and national heroes. Beirut thrived as a major commercial and tourist center of the Middle East. It was a top destination among wealthy Arabs and European tourists, due to Beirut's unique geography, climate, diverse culture, and freedom. Beirut was seen as the "European gateway to the Middle East" and vice versa, and was often called the "Paris of the Middle East". The city has severely suffered from a 15 year long civil war that ravaged the country from 1975 to 1990. It quickly was divided in a Western part controlled by Pan-Arabist Lebanese and Palestinian militias inclined to socialism and an eastern part under control of nationalist Lebanese militias leaning towards fascism. The front line was for most of the time along the roads Damascus Street and Old Saida Street. The central area of the city, previously the focus of much of the commercial and cultural activities, became a no-man's land. You can still find many buildings damaged or completely ruined especially on the verges of Downtown but there are hardly any efforts to keep the memory of those bloody days alive. The conflict is often misleadingly portrayed as a religious conflict that divided the city in a Muslim and a Christian part. While it is true that there were massacres along religious lines many Christians lived in West Beirut throughout the war and vice versa and most militias had Christian, Muslim, and - at least some communist factions - atheist members.