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To many Lebanese and foreigners alike Lebanon is a country of ritzy beaches and dazzling nightlife where pulsating strobes and laser lights illuminate the dark with vigor and color. But Lebanon’s virtues continue to deliver long after the lights have gone out. More than ever Lebanese are getting their fix by looking to the night sky, and in doing so, reconnecting with their Middle Eastern heritage. After all, this region was once a global leader in astronomy until conservative rulers prioritized religious knowledge over scientific discovery. Centuries ago the Arabs of the region depended on astronomy for navigation as well as scheduling Islamic traditions. Today their legacy can be found within the names of at least 210 of the most common stars, which are derived from Arabic roots.
Fortunately, modern people no longer rely on the night sky for moving from one destination to another. While advancements in technology have made it easier to travel and even magnify the stars, human ingenuity is often a double edged sword. Population increase and subsequent urban sprawl have resulted in ever encroaching levels of light pollution that drown out the beauty of the universe beyond. Yet there are still places in the country that host breathtaking views of the cosmos, especially for those that know where to look.
One quick but important tip for those that are planning to use this list. At least one experienced hobbyist interviewed by SoBeirut was stopped by armed men while searching for a viewing platform. While this is an exceptional case a responsible stargazer should never forget to be respectful to locals that may justifiably be wary of night time tourists with telephoto equipment. Lastly, stargazers should always abide by the implicit code of ethics that ensures the hobby will be enjoyable for fellow enthusiasts. Remember to turn off car headlights, lower music volume and bring your own trash bag to minimize litter that ruins the environment and poses a hazard for others in the dark. For the best experience it is always preferable to book a trip with a professional tour service like BeirutVersus, which specializes in astrophotography and amateur astronomy. For the rest that plan to go it alone let this list serve as a guiding star.
NUMBER SIX: Qaa Al Rim
This little, picturesque village of fresh water springs lies slightly up the mountain near Zahle. Despite being located next to a city with a 24/7 operational electric grid the night sky remains surprisingly dark. Keep in mind that respect for the locals should be a priority. All in all, Qaa Al Rim makes for a nice vista to expand your celestial horizons.
NUMBER FIVE: Falougha
About 40 minutes from Beirut, at 1,250 meters above sea level is the historic Falougha village where in 1943 the first Lebanese flag was raised. This is a good location for a day trip as a cedar reserve close by makes for an enjoyable and eco-friendly precursor to the shining stars at night.
NUMBER FOUR: Cedar Grounds Camp Site, Chouf
Established paths and rest areas make this place a favorite among stargazers, prized for its ease of access and of course, its night sky. Its location next to Chouf Cedar Reserve creates a “meditative and relaxing outdoor experience” where the surrounding forest reduces light pollution. For those that would rather avoid the bustle of campers several villages close by also offer similar views. Keep in mind that some areas in the Chouf still contain live minefields that, while demarcated, may be hard to see in the dark.
NUMBER THREE: Laklouk
Laklouk is well known as a skiing hub in Lebanon and its resort facilities are great for tourists looking for a comfortable getaway in the summer or a warm haven in the winter. Between the slopes, the trees and the waterfalls there is plenty of scenery to keep visitors amused for the duration of their stay. The area’s amenities in combination with a fairly dark night sky grant Laklouk the number three spot on the list.
NUMBER TWO: Kfardebian
This is the site of the largest ski resort in the Middle East so accommodations here are stellar. Although increasing light pollution from Kefraya has reduced visibility over the past five years the night sky here is still fantastic.
NUMBER ONE: Qurnat Al Sawda
As the highest point in the Levant Mt. Sawda was an obvious choice as the best place to appreciate the night sky in Lebanon. For those willing to make the drive to an elevation of 3,088 meters this scenic vista will not disappoint. Be sure to dress for the weather as temperatures at night drop to around 0 to -5 degrees. Clouds moving over the peak can suddenly enshroud astronomers in a dense fog and leave them soaked with cold water after dissipating. Poor road conditions and other factors make this is a good place to go with a guide.
Khalil Azar, a night sky photographer who spent seven years scouting stargazing locations throughout Lebanon, described the mountain as having good “seeing.” Seeing is an astronomical term that communicates the viewing quality of a location, taking into account atmospheric turbulence from wind or changes in temperature that can distort incoming star light. According to Azar the site is so well suited for night sky viewing that there are plans to establish an observatory on its peak.