Culture of Lebanon
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The culture of Lebanon is the cross culture of various civilizations over thousands of years. Originally home to the Phoenicians, and then subsequently conquered and occupied by the Assyrians, the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Arabs, the Crusaders, the Ottoman Turks and most recently the French, Lebanese culture has over the millennia evolved by borrowing from all of these groups. Lebanon's diverse population, composed of different ethnic and religious groups, has further contributed to the country's festivals, musical styles and literature as well as cuisine.
Despite the ethnic, linguistic, religious and denominational diversity of the Lebanese, they “share an almost common culture”. Lebanese Arabic is universally spoken while food, music, and literature are deep-rooted “in wider Mediterranean and Levantine norms”.
By the turn of the 20th century, Beirut was vying with Cairo to be the major center for modern Arab thought, with many newspapers, magazines and literary societies. Additionally, Beirut became a thriving epicenter of Armenian culture with varied productions that was exported to the Armenian diaspora.
Two contemporary art exhibition centers, the Beirut Art Center and the Beirut Exhibition Center 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, Akram Zaatari, Marwan Sahmarani, Nadim Asfar, Lamia Joreige, Jean Marc Nahas, Ricardo Mbarkho, Mansour El-Habre, and many others. These galleries are run by gallerists such as Saleh Barakat (Agial), Galerie Mark Hachem, Fadi Mogabgab, Galerie Janine Rubeiz.
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". 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.
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.
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.
When the Ottomans exiled Fakhreddine to Tuscany 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. The cities of Beirut and Sidon were especially built in the Italianate style. 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. Buildings like the Nicolas Sursock mansion on Rue Sursock, which is today a major museum, attest to the continuous influence of Italianate architecture in Lebanon.
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. Several contemporary Lebanese writers have also achieved international success; including Elias Khoury, Amin Maalouf, Hanan al-Shaykh, and Georges Schehadé.
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Music is pervasive in Lebanese society. While traditional folk music remains popular in Lebanon, modern music reconciling Western and traditional Arabic styles, pop, and fusion are rapidly advancing in popularity. Radio stations feature a variety of music, including traditional Lebanese, classical Arabic, Armenian and modern French, English, American, and Latin tunes. Prominent traditional musicians include Fairuz, an icon during the civil war, Sabah, Wadih El Safi, Majida El Roumi, and Najwa Karam who built an international audience for the genre. Marcel Khalife, a musician who blends classical Arab music with modern sounds, boasts immense popularity for his politically charged lyrics. Distinguished pop artists include Nancy Ajram, Haifa Wehbe, The 4 Cats—an all-female group—, Fadl Shaker, Elissa and Mika.
According to the World Intellectual Property Organization, Lebanon's music industry is growing and could attain leading status in the region. Lebanese performers are celebrated throughout the Arab World, and with the notable exception of Egypt enjoy increasing regional popularity. 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.
Lebanon is not only a regional center of media production but also the most liberal and free in the Arab world. According to Press freedom's Reporters Without Borders, "the media have more freedom in Lebanon than in any other Arab country". 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".
After independence, Beirut emerged as the epicenter of publishing in the Arab world, characterized by free and liberal media and literary scenes. Lebanon's press became a huge industry despite the country's small size and has remained a haven for Arabic publishing. 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. Lebanon hosts annually two important regional publishing events, the Beirut Book Fair and the Beirut Francophone Book Fair.
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. 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 and 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.
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. Cinema in Lebanon has been in existence since the 1920s, and the country has produced over 500 films, some of which are:
- West Beirut – by Ziad Doueiri, released in 1998, received the Prix François Chalais at the Directors' fortnight of the Cannes Film Festival (1998)
- Mabrouk Again – by Hany Tamba, released in 2000
- The Kite– by Randa Chahal, released in 2003, received many prestigious awards including the Silver Lion, Prix de la paix- Gillo Pontecorvo and Prix de la Lanterne Magique at the Venice Film Festival (2003)
- After Shave – by Hany Tamba, released in 2005, received the 2006 French César Award for best foreign short film
- Bosta – by Philippe Aractingi, released in 2005
- Under the Bombs – by Philippe Aractingi, released in 2006
- Caramel – starring and directed by Nadine Labaki, released in 2007
- Where Do We Go Now? – starring and directed by Nadine Labaki, released in 2011, received the Cadillac People's Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival (2011)
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. Some scholars like Abdulatif Shararah divided theatre in Lebanon into three phases: translations of European plays, Arab nationalism, and realism.
All Christians and most Muslims who live in the cities wear European style 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 Western clothing.
Holidays and festivals
Lebanon celebrates national and both Christian and Muslim holidays. Christian holidays are celebrated following both the Gregorian Calendar and Julian Calendar. Catholics, Protestant, and Melkite Christians follow the Gregorian Calendar and thus celebrate Christmas on 25 December. Greek Orthodox and 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 (the Shiite Day of Atonement). 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. Among the most famous are Baalbeck International Festival, Byblos International Festival, Beiteddine International Festival, Broumana Festival, Batroun Festival, Dhour Chwer Festival and Tyr Festival. 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.
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.
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
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 very 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 Halloween, 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 France.
Lebanese society is very modern and similar to certain cultures of Mediterranean Europe as the country is "linked ideologically and culturally to Europe through France, and its uniquely diverse ethnic and religious composition [create] a rare environment that [is] at once Arab and European. It is often considered as Europe's gateway to Western Asia as well as Asia's gateway to the Western World.
By comparison to most other Arab capitals, Beirut is more westernized and more socially 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.
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 is technically illegal, Beirut has a number of gay bars and nightclubs, in addition to two LGBT rights organizations, namely Helem and Meem but these bars were closed in 2008 in relation to the new government policy against illegal sex.
- Football is the most popular sport in Lebanon. In association football, the governing body for Lebanon is the Federation Libanaise de Football (FLDF). The FLDF organises the men's, women's, and futsal national teams.
- Basketball - Basketball is one of the most popular sports in Lebanon. In basketball, the governing body is the Lebanese Basketball Federation, and it is a member of FIBA Asia. The Lebanon national basketball team has qualified three consecutives times to the FIBA World Championship in 2002, 2006, and 2010, and the team is ranked 24th in the world and the women's national team is ranked 61st in the world. The most successful Lebanese basketball clubs are Sporting Al Riyadi Beirut and Hekmeh, known as C.S. Sagesse or Sagesse for men and Antranik SC for women.
- Rugby league - Rugby league is a popular sport in Lebanon. The Lebanon national rugby league team qualified and played in the 2000 Rugby League World Cup, and nearly qualified for the 2008 Rugby League World Cup, but were narrowly beaten by Samoa in their final game.
- Weightlifting - Weightlifting has been, besides basketball, one of the biggest success stories in Lebanese sport. In the 1972 Summer Olympics, Mohamed Traboulsi won the silver medal, in addition to many gold medals in continental and regional championships and is considered one of the most revered athletes in Lebanon.
- Winter sports - Skiing and snowboarding are popular sports up in the mountains, and the country boosts six ski resorts, with slopes suitable for skiers and snowboarders of all ages and levels of experience. Off-slope, there are many opportunities for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling.
- In the summer, skilifts can be used to access some of Lebanon's best hiking trails, with panoramic views stretching as far as Cyprus to the west and Syria to the east on clear days. Canoeing, cycling, rafting, climbing, swimming, sailing, and spelunking are among the other common leisure sports in Lebanon. Adventure and extreme sports are also possible throughout the country.
- Running - The Beirut International Marathon is held every fall, drawing top runners from Lebanon and abroad. Shorter races are also held for youth and less serious competitors. Race day is promoted as a fun, family event, and it has become a tradition for many to participate in costumes or outlandish clothing.
- Equestrian sports - Equestrian sports are increasing in popularity, especially in the highlands of Lebanon, where the game of polo is played in farming villages and towns around the country.
- Rugby union - Rugby union is increasing in popularity, and was introduced from France. The Lebanon national rugby union team represents Lebanon in international rugby union, and is governed by the Lebanon Rugby Union.
- Other sports - Sports such as surfing, bodyboarding, netball, cycling, beach soccer, skateboarding, baseball, American football, and sporting events such as triathlons are increasing in popularity.
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