Location: Middle East, bordering the Mediterranean Sea,
between Israel and Syria
Geographic coordinates: 33 50 N, 35 50 E
Map references: Middle East
total: 10,400 sq km
land: 10,230 sq km
water: 170 sq km
Area - comparative: about 0.7 times the size of Connecticut
total: 454 km
border countries: Israel 79 km, Syria 375 km
Coastline: 225 km
territorial sea: 12 nm
Climate: Mediterranean; mild to cool, wet winters with hot,
dry summers; Lebanon mountains experience heavy winter snows
Terrain: narrow coastal plain; Al Biqa' (Bekaa Valley) separates
Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon Mountains
lowest point: Mediterranean Sea 0 m
highest point: Qurnat as Sawda' 3,088 m
Natural resources: limestone, iron ore, salt, water-surplus
state in a water-deficit region, arable land
arable land: 21%
permanent crops: 9%
permanent pastures: 1%
forests and woodland: 8%
other: 61% (1993 est.)
Irrigated land: 860 sq km (1993 est.)
Natural hazards: dust storms, sandstorms
Environment - current issues: deforestation; soil erosion;
desertification; air pollution in Beirut from vehicular traffic
and the burning of industrial wastes; pollution of coastal waters
from raw sewage and oil spills
Environment - international agreements:
party to: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification,
Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Nuclear Test Ban,
Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Wetlands
signed, but not ratified: Environmental Modification, Marine
Dumping, Marine Life Conservation
Geography - note: Nahr al Litani only major river in Near
East not crossing an international boundary; rugged terrain historically
helped isolate, protect, and develop numerous factional groups based
on religion, clan, and ethnicity
Lebanon is a small country of only 10,452 sq km, from north to south
it extends 217 km and from east to west it spans 80 km at its widest
point. The country is bounded by Syria on both the north and east
and by Israel on the south.
Lebanon's landforms fall into four parallel belts that run from
northeast to southwest: a narrow coastal plain along the Mediterranean
shore. The country's name comes from the old Semitic word laban,
meaning "white," which refers to the heavy snow in the mountains.
Most of Lebanon has a Mediterranean climate, with warm, dry summers,
and cool, wet winters, although the climate varies somewhat across
the landform belts.
The coastal plain is subtropical, with 900 mm (35 in) of annual
rainfall and a mean temperature in Beirut of 27° C (80° F) in summer
and 14° C (57° F) in winter.
In the Lebanon Mountains, temperatures decrease and precipitation
increases with elevation. Heavy winter snows linger well into summer,
making the Lebanon Mountains more pleasant in the summer than the
humid coast, higher altitudes receive as much as 1,275 mm (50 in)
of annual precipitation.
The Bekaa Valley and the Anti-Lebanon Mountains are situated in
the rain shadow of the Lebanon Mountains and as a result have hot,
dry summers and cold winters with occasional rain.
Background: Lebanon has made progress toward rebuilding
its political institutions and regaining its national sovereignty
since the end of the devastating 16-year civil war, which ended
Under the Ta'if Accordthe blueprint for national reconciliationthe
Lebanese have established a more equitable political system, particularly
by giving Muslims a greater say in the political process while institutionalizing
sectarian divisions in the government.
Since the end of the civil war, the Lebanese have formed six cabinets,
conducted two legislative elections, and held their first municipal
elections in 35 years.
Most of the militias have been weakened or disbanded. The Lebanese
Armed Forces (LAF) has seized vast quantities of weapons used by
the militias during the war and extended central government authority
over about one-half of the country. Hizballah, the radical Shi'a
party, retains its weapons.
Foreign forces still occupy areas of Lebanon. Israel maintains troops
in southern Lebanon and continues to support a proxy militia, the
Army of South Lebanon (ASL), along a narrow stretch of territory
contiguous to its border.
The ASL's enclave encompasses this self-declared security zone and
about 20 kilometers north to the strategic town of Jazzin. Syria
maintains about 25,000 troops in Lebanon based mainly in Beirut,
North Lebanon, and the Bekaa Valley.
Syria's deployment was legitimized by the Arab League during Lebanon's
civil war and in the Ta'if Accord. Citing the continued weakness
of the LAF, Beirut's requests, and failure of the Lebanese Government
to implement all of the constitutional reforms in the Ta'if Accord,
Damascus has so far refused to withdraw its troops from Lebanon.
Size: Approximately 10,452 square kilometers.
Topography: Four major features running roughly
from north to south: coastal strip, Lebanon Mountains, Biqa Valley,
and Anti-Lebanon Mountains. Several perennial rivers, but none navigable.
Climate: Mediterranean climate with hot, dry summers
and cool, wet winters. Weather drier and hotter east of Lebanon
Data as of December 1987
Lebanon's mountainous terrain, proximity to the sea, and strategic
location at a crossroads of the world were decisive factors in shaping
its history. The political, economic, and religious movements that
either originated in the region or crossed through to leave an imprint
upon Lebanese society give form to that history.
The country's role in the region, as indeed in the world at large,
was shaped by trade. The area, formerly part of the region known
as Greater Syria, served as a link between the Mediterranean world
and India and East Asia. The merchants of the region exported oil,
grain, textiles, metal work, and pottery through the port cities
to Western markets. The linkage role of Lebanon was further enhanced
by the nomads of the Syrian and Arabian deserts who visited the
cities of Syria to trade. The caravans developed limited routes
that often led to the coastal cities of Tripoli, Beirut, Sidon,
or Tyre. This created a merchant class and brought wealth to the
inhabitants of the region. The trade between East and West led to
the development of a cosmopolitan culture in Lebanon's port cities,
whose inhabitants became known for their multilingualism, flexibility,
moderation, and commercial acumen.
Lebanon was also affected by regional political conflicts and social
movements. The wealth of the region attracted powerful rulers who
coveted its resources. The strategic location was also attractive;
it was used either as a defensive position against enemies approaching
the Arab hinterland or as a stepping-stone toward Lebanon's neighbors.
Over the centuries, members of the nomadic tribes of the Arabian
Peninsula sought a more prosperous life in Lebanon. To this day,
many Lebanese families take pride in tracing their descent to ancient
tribes of Arabia. Moreover, refugees belonging to minority sects
have settled in its virtually inaccessible mountain valleys. Hence,
the region became a melting pot of cultural and social interaction
among diverse groups. In a social culture where blood lineage assumed
primacy as a source of identification and affiliation, the contrast
between the new Arab immigrant tribes and the settled inhabitants
of the land frequently produced conflicts.
Data as of December 1987
The area of Lebanon is approximately 10,452 square kilometers.
The country is roughly rectangular in shape, becoming narrower toward
the south and the farthest north. Its widest point is 88 kilometers,
and its narrowest is 32 kilometers; the average width is about 56
The physical geography of Lebanon is influenced by natural systems
that extend outside the country. Thus, the Biqa Valley is part of
the Great Rift system, which stretches from southern Turkey to Mozambique
in Africa. Like any mountainous country, Lebanon's physical geography
is complex. Land forms, climate, soils, and vegetation differ markedly
within short distances. There are also sharp changes in other elements
of the environment, from good to poor soils, as one moves through
the Lebanese mountains.
A major feature of Lebanese topography is the alternation of lowland
and highland that runs generally parallel with a north-to-south
orientation. There are four such longitudinal strips between the
Mediterranean Sea and Syria: the coastal strip (or the maritime
plain), western Lebanon, the central plateau, and eastern Lebanon
The extremely narrow coastal strip stretches along the shore of
the eastern Mediterranean. Hemmed in between sea and mountain, the
sahil, as it is called in Lebanon, is widest in the north
near Tripoli, where it is only 6.5 kilometers wide. A few kilometers
south at Juniyah the approximately 1.5-kilometer-wide plain is succeeded
by foothills that rise steeply to 750 meters within 6.5 kilometers
from the sea. For the most part, the coast is abrupt and rocky.
The shore line is regular with no deep estuary, gulf, or natural
harbor. The maritime plain is especially productive of fruits and
The western range, the second major region, is the Lebanon Mountains,
sometimes called Mount Lebanon, or Lebanon proper before 1920. Since
Roman days the term Mount Lebanon has encompassed this area. Antilibanos
(Anti-Lebanon) was used to designate the eastern range. Geologists
believe that the twin mountains once formed one range. The Lebanon
Mountains are the highest, most rugged, and most imposing of the
whole maritime range of mountains and plateaus that start with the
Amanus or Nur Mountains in northern Syria and end with the towering
massif of Sinai. The mountain structure forms the first barrier
to communication between the Mediterranean and Lebanon's eastern
hinterland. The mountain range is a clearly defined unit having
natural boundaries on all four sides. On the north it is separated
from the Nusayriyah Mountains of Syria by An Nahr al Kabir (the
great river); on the south it is bounded by Al Qasimiyah River,
giving it a length of 169 kilometers. Its width varies from about
56.5 kilometers near Tripoli to 9.5 kilometers on the southern end.
It rises to alpine heights southeast of Tripoli, where Al Qurnat
as Sawda (the black nook) reaches 3,360 meters. Of the other peaks
that rise east of Beirut, Jabal Sannin (2,695 meters) is the highest.
Ahl al Jabal (people of the mountain), or simply jabaliyyun,
has referred traditionally to the inhabitants of western Lebanon.
Near its southern end, the Lebanon Mountains branch off to the west
to form the Shuf Mountains.
The third geographical region is the Biqa Valley. This central
highland between the Lebanon Mountains and the Anti-Lebanon Mountains
is about 177 kilometers in length and 9.6 to 16 kilometers wide
and has an average elevation of 762 meters. Its middle section spreads
out more than its two extremities. Geologically, the Biqa is the
medial part of a depression that extends north to the western bend
of the Orontes River in Syria and south to Jordan through Al Arabah
to Al Aqabah, the eastern arm of the Red Sea. The Biqa is the country's
chief agricultural area and served as a granary of Roman Syria.
Biqa is the Arabic plural of buqaah, meaning a place with
Emerging from a base south of Homs in Syria, the eastern mountain
range, or Anti-Lebanon (Lubnan ash Sharqi), is almost equal in length
and height to the Lebanon Mountains. This fourth geographical region
falls swiftly from Mount Hermon to the Hawran Plateau, whence it
continues through Jordan south to the Dead Sea. The Barada gorge
divides Anti-Lebanon. In the northern section, few villages are
on the western slopes, but in the southern section, featuring Mount
Hermon (286 meters), the western slopes have many villages. Anti-Lebanon
is more arid, especially in its northern parts, than Mount Lebanon
and is consequently less productive and more thinly populated.
Data as of December 1987
Lebanon has a Mediterranean climate characterized by a long, hot,
and dry summer, and cool, rainy winter. Fall is a transitional season
with a gradual lowering of temperature and little rain; spring occurs
when the winter rains cause the vegetation to revive. Topographical
variation creates local modifications of the basic climatic pattern.
Along the coast, summers are hot and humid, with little or no rain.
Heavy dews form, which are beneficial to agriculture. The daily
range of temperature is not wide, although temperatures may reach
above 38° C in the daytime and below 16° C at night. A west
wind provides relief during the afternoon and evening; at night
the wind direction is reversed, blowing from the land out to sea.
Winter is the rainy season, with major precipitation falling after
December. Rainfall is generous but is concentrated during only a
few days of the rainy season, falling in heavy cloudbursts. The
amount of rainfall varies greatly from one year to another. Occasionally,
there are frosts during the winter, and about once every fifteen
years a light powdering of snow falls as far south as Beirut. A
hot wind blowing from the Egyptian desert called the khamsin
(Arabic for fifty), may provide a warming trend during the fall,
but more often occurs during the spring. Bitterly cold winds may
come from Europe. Along the coast the proximity to the sea provides
a moderating influence on the climate, making the range of temperatures
narrower than it is inland, but the temperatures are cooler in the
northern parts of the coast where there is also more rain.
In the Lebanon Mountains the gradual increase in altitude produces
colder winters with more precipitation and snow. The summers have
a wider daily range of temperatures and less humidity. In the winter,
frosts are frequent and snows heavy; in fact, snow covers the highest
peaks for much of the year. In the summer, temperatures may rise
as high during the daytime as they do along the coast, but they
fall far lower at night. Inhabitants of the coastal cities, as well
as visitors, seek refuge from the oppressive humidity of the coast
by spending much of the summer in the mountains, where numerous
summer resorts are located. Both the khamsin and the north
winter wind are felt in the Lebanon Mountains. The influence of
the Mediterranean Sea is abated by the altitude and, although the
precipitation is even higher than it is along the coast, the range
of temperatures is wider and the winters are more severe.
The Biqa Valley and the Anti-Lebanon Mountains are shielded from
the influence of the sea by the Lebanon Mountains. The result is
considerably less precipitation and humidity and a wider variation
in daily and yearly temperatures. The khamsin does not
occur in the Biqa Valley, but the north winter wind is so severe
that the inhabitants say it can "break nails." Despite the relatively
low altitude of the Biqa Valley (the highest point of which, near
Baalbek, is only 1,100 meters) more snow falls there than at comparable
altitudes west of the Lebanon Mountains.
Because of their altitudes, the Anti-Lebanon Mountains receive
more precipitation than the Biqa Valley, despite their remoteness
from maritime influences. Much of this precipitation appears as
snow, and the peaks of the Anti-Lebanon, like those of the Lebanon
Mountains, are snow-covered for much of the year. Temperatures are
cooler than in the Biqa Valley.
Data as of December 1987
Rivers and Lakes
Although the country is well watered and there are many rivers
and streams, there are no navigable rivers, nor is any one river
the sole source of irrigation water. Drainage patterns are determined
by geological features and climate. Although rainfall is seasonal,
most streams are perennial. Most rivers in Lebanon have their origins
in springs, which are often quite large. These springs emerge from
the permeable limestone strata cropping out at the 915- to 1,524-meter
level in the Lebanon Mountains. In the Anti-Lebanon Mountains few
springs emerge in this manner. Other springs emerge from alluvial
soil and join to form rivers. Whatever their source, the rivers
are fast moving, straight, and generally cascade down narrow mountain
canyons to the sea.
The Biqa Valley is watered by two rivers that rise in the watershed
near Baalbek: the Orontes flowing north (in Arabic it is called
Nahr al Asi, the Rebel River, because this direction is unusual),
and the Litani flowing south into the hill region of the southern
Biqa Valley, where it makes an abrupt turn to the west and is thereafter
called the Al Qasmiyah River. The Orontes continues to flow north
into Syria and eventually reaches the Mediterranean in Turkey. Its
waters, for much of its course, flow through a channel considerably
lower than the surface of the ground. The Nahr Barada, which waters
Damascus, has as its source a spring in the Anti-Lebanon Mountains.
Smaller springs and streams serve as tributaries to the principal
rivers. Because the rivers and streams have such steep gradients
and are so fast moving, they are erosive instead of depository in
nature. This process is aided by the soft character of the limestone
that composes much of the mountains, the steep slopes of the mountains,
and the heavy rainstorms. The only permanent lake is Buhayrat al
Qirawn, about ten kilometers east of Jazzin. There is one seasonal
lake, fed by springs, on the eastern slopes of the Lebanon Mountains
near Yammunah, about forty kilometers southeast of Tripoli.
Data as of December 1987