Ministry of Culture

Cultural Symbolism of Beirut

image Lebanon, the Cradle of the Alphabet
The sarcophagus of Ahiram, which is kept at the national museum of Beirut testifies that it was at Byblos, during the 11th century B.C.E that the 22-letter alphabet was created. The Phoenician script, spread by the legendary Cadmus, son of Tyre, reached the coasts of Sardinia and Carthage. It was even adopted, in the 8th century, by the Greeks who introduced modifications necessary to the transcription of their language. In a foreword to a book entitled “Lebanon and the Book”, former French minister of Culture Jack Lang wrote:”Every time that we pronounce the word library (bibliothèque) we are uttering the name of Byblos, a small city on the Lebanese coast that the Greeks equated to the very matter of the book. As early as the 3rd millennium B.C., on clay and stone, metal and papyrus, the first forms of writing spread. It was here that the 22-letter consonantal alphabet was invented towards the end of the 11th century B.C. giving written expression a decisive simplification. The new script conquered the Orient of the Greeks, the Etruscans, then the Latin and, towards the East, the Aramaeans then the Arabs, each civilization adapting it to its genius and languages. To that gift of the Near East the West responded several centuries later by inventing the printing machine that a host of Maronite scholars would adapt to the Arabic script in the 16th century.”

image Beirut, the Printing Press of the Arab World
Considered as the “printing press of the Arab World”, Beirut has played a prominent role in the circulation of the book in the East and has largely contributed to the Nahda, the Arab renaissance. Today it is home to over 400 publishing houses – who produce books in Arabic as well as in French and English – to a dozen reputed universities including the Lebanese University, the American University of Beirut (AUB), Saint-Joseph University, and to a myriad of cultural centers.

image Beirut, a Haven of Freedom
Beirut always was a haven of freedom for the Arab world’s intellectuals. The press and the writers always struggled to promote human rights and against censorship. According to poet Salah Stétié, “Beirut is the city par excellence of all dialogues. It embodies at the highest level the fulguration of the decisive encounter, the creative reunion. For itself and for all those who come to it from everywhere to experience the respiration of freedom, it is the city of all thresholds and all mediations.”