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1UpTravel - Geography Info and Facts of Countries : . - Lebanon

Lebanon Geography and Facts

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

Land boundaries:
total: 454 km
border countries: Israel 79 km, Syria 375 km

Coastline: 225 km

Maritime claims:
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

Elevation extremes:
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

Land use:
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 in 1991.

Under the Ta'if Accord—the blueprint for national reconciliation—the 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 Mountains.

Data as of December 1987



Physical Features

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 kilometers.

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 vegetables.

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 stagnant water.

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

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