National Geographic : 1958 Apr
LE BNC Jubay (Byblo St. GeorgeP 9A "yah Beiru Mo Furn ash Shubb *ry Ash Shuwayf '- Tal Khald Al Amir Chehab unlocked a steel door and showed me exquisite pieces of gold, silver, and obsidian, funeral gifts from the tombs of ancient Phoenician kings. "But my greatest treasure is neither gold nor jewels," beamed my host. He led me into a dimly lighted basement past an eerie row of white-marble sarcophagi, each adorned with a portrait of its occupant staring blankly at the ceiling. We stopped before a huge stone coffin dating from 1000 B. C., richly decorated with Egyptian-flavored art depict ing the funeral procession of its owner, one King Ahiram of Byblos. "This row of characters along the lid is one of the best known evidences of what is prob ably man's first alphabet," said the amir. Alphabet Came West via Lebanon With paper and pencil the amir traced for me the transition of some of the 22 original consonants of that ancient alphabet into the Roman letters and Arabic script of today, a fascinating lesson in etymology (opposite). 488 But it was the Lebanon of today I wanted most to see. Though only four-fifths the size of Connecticut, this amazing little country offers a blend of scenery and history that rivals any larger nation. An excellent road network crisscrosses much of the country's gnarled geography. In a single day one can drive from Beirut past the cabanas and bananas of the Mediterranean up to high mountain snow fields, down the inland slope into the broad green plain called Al Biqa', and before nightfall see nomadic Bed ouin tribes on the semidesert of the Syrian frontier. I was discussing this "vacationland of the Near East" with Mr. Michel Touma, Director of the Bureau of Tourism, in his Beirut office. Plump and jolly, Mr. Touma speaks three languages fluently-and sometimes simulta neously. "Tourists brought Lebanon $30,000,000 last year," he said in English. "But more im portant, I think, is the fact that each tourist is a potential ambassador of good will."