Lebanon’s Jounieh keeps charm despite urbanisation

A well-preserved Roman bridge across the Ghazir River once formed the boundary between the Crusader County of Tripoli and the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem.
Sunday 03/02/2019
A panoramic view of the Bay of Jounieh and Our Lady of Lebanon statue. (Jounieh Municipality)
A panoramic view of the Bay of Jounieh and Our Lady of Lebanon statue. (Jounieh Municipality)

JOUNIEH - Once a quiet fishing village on a spectacular bay 16km north of Beirut, Jounieh has grown into a densely built-up area of high-rise buildings, hotels and large resort complexes.

Despite the disorderly urban development, the village-turned-city has kept many of its charms. The old, arcaded souk on the waterfront is a busy shopping area teeming with life and famous for its restaurants offering diverse cuisines, pubs and bustling nightlife.

Old houses built in the traditional architecture with arcades and red-tiled roofs line the seaside on a backdrop of modern blocs and hotels. Some 200 of Jounieh’s old houses have been marked for preservation.

“We have put in place a plan for renovating the old souks and traditional buildings to show the genuine face of Jounieh,” said Sami Al Burji, a member of Jounieh municipality in charge of tourism.

“New laws banning the construction of high-rise buildings have been introduced and the municipality has many heritage protection plans that it is keen on implementing. Tourism is among our priorities because that will attract more visitors and benefit the people of Jounieh.”

A long-time attraction in Jounieh is the “teleferique” — cable car — ride to the top of the pine-forested mountain overlooking the city.

In only 9 minutes, the 1.5km line transports passengers from the bay of Jounieh to an altitude of 650 metres, arriving at Our Lady of Lebanon shrine in Harissa. The trip offers spectacularly dramatic views, including panoramic vistas over the bay. A short trip up a funicular takes visitors the remaining distance to the statue of Our Lady of Lebanon and the adjacent basilica.

The Teleferique Food Court and Playground offers a large choice of restaurants and cafes overlooking the Mediterranean. The ride which is considered one of the most popular activities for tourists in Jounieh costs 11,000 Lebanese pounds (about $7.30).

The Shrine of Saint George, set in an ancient funerary cave known as al-Batieh on the city’s seaside, is an attraction mainly for worshippers and pilgrims. Made into a place of worship and Christian pilgrimage in the Middle Ages, supplicants light candles or bathe in the waters to ensure fertility. This is also the traditional site of Saint George’s battle with the dragon.

The house of late Lebanese President Fuad Chehab (ruled 1958-64) is another landmark in the heart of the old city. Chehab is credited with building modern Lebanon through important reforms and large-scale social development projects.

His house, which was falling into ruin, was bought by the Lebanese Maronite Order and turned into a museum mostly visited by Lebanese nationals.

“Members of the Lebanese Maronite Order visited (French President) Charles de Gaulle’s museum in France to acquire knowledge about how to archive the history of big leaders,” said Ghassan Fares, who worked on establishing the museum. “Our aim is to keep up the legacy of a great man of this country.”

Displayed at the humble residence that once housed Lebanon’s most distinguished head of state are his uniforms, medals, handwritten documents that drafted the state’s modern infrastructure and institutions, including the army, the Consultative Council, the Central Inspection Commission, the Civil Service Council and the National Social Security Fund.

“We facilitate visits by school students and have established the Fouad Chehab Award as a way of introducing the new generation to the achievements of a great man from Lebanon,” Fares said.

Towards the north of Jounieh’s waterfront is a well-preserved Roman bridge across the Ghazir River, which once formed the boundary between the Crusader County of Tripoli and the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem.

Also overlooking the Bay of Jounieh is the Casino du Liban, which tempts visitors with slot machines, roulette, blackjack, baccarat and stud poker, as well as restaurants, a nightclub and a theatre that hosts international concerts and shows such as the French cancan.

The city is known for its international summer festivals, which usually kick off with a spectacular fireworks show along the bay.

“The fireworks did not take place this summer because of complaints about the pollution they may cause. We replaced this activity with the ‘green wall’ project under which flowers and trees will be planted on bridges and streets,” Burji said.

Christmas in Jounieh was special last year.

The city lit the Christmas tree, which won Guinness recognition as one of the largest and most beautiful worldwide, and the market along the coastal corniche received visitors with Christmas recitals and carols by several chorales.

A view of the older part of Jounieh.(Jounieh Municipality)
Saint Georges shrine in Jounieh.(Samar Kadi)
The statue of late Lebanese President Fuad Chehab outside his home in Jounieh.(Samar Kadi)