Student visits historical sites in Lebanon with funding from the Ancient Middle East Travel Fund

26 September 2019

Over the summer, undergraduate student Zoe Vanhegan visited historical sites across Lebanon, with funding from the Ancient Middle East travel fund. We spoke to Zoe about her trip.


Tell us a little about your trip which was financed by the Ancient Middle East Travel Fund?

Thanks to the Ancient Middle East Travel Fund, I was able to travel to Lebanon for 12 days. I visited the beautiful Maronite monasteries buried into the Qadisha Valley whilst staying in Bsharri; nearby was The Forest of The Cedars of God, an impressive forest, containing some of the oldest trees in the world, potentially dating back more than 3000 years. I then journeyed to the UNESCO world heritage site of Baalbek to see the magnificent ruins of the Temple of Bacchus and the Temple of Jupiter. Whilst in the Beqaa valley I visited Lebanon’s oldest winery (Chateau Ksara) and tasted some of their unique vintages. Beirut was a city of contrasts, as war torn buildings stood alongside beautiful colonial houses and modern skyscrapers. In Byblos, spice merchants sold their wares upon the ancient stones of the port. I ended the trip in Tyre, visiting the wonderful Al Bass complex and necropolis, both stunning examples of Roman architecture.

Why did you decide to visit Lebanon?

After previously journeying to places such as Pompeii, Rome and Syracuse, I have longed to travel to some of the more secluded ancient sites, not yet discovered by hordes of tourists. Studying Ancient History has also heightened my understanding and appreciation for the period. With some of the best ruins in the world – such as Baalbek, Byblos and Tyre – Lebanon seemed to me an obvious choice. Furthermore, the Middle East and its enormously complex history has always fascinated me, so I jumped at the chance to visit it with the financial backing of the Ancient Middle East Travel Fund.

What did you learn when you were there?

My experience in Lebanon was amazing. After some depictions of Lebanon in the western media as a disruptive country, coupled with its troubled past, it was great to see the cohabitation and rebuilding that actually occurs in many of the cities that I visited. Furthermore, seeing the huge ancient cities – with architecture that can rival in both beauty and strength many of the buildings of our time today – built so far from the Roman heartland reminded me of the immense accomplishments of the Roman Empire.

What are your plans for the future?

For my third year of University, I am studying Death and Dying in Mesopotamia as my dissertation module: this is something that I believe will be aided by the time I spent in the Middle East this summer and I am greatly looking forward to getting stuck into it. Looking further into the future, next summer I plan on travelling to Turkey, South America or China, to further indulge my love for both travel and history.

Zoe took the below images on her trip. The top left image was taken in Beirut; the top right in Tyre; the bottom left in Tyre and the bottom right in Bsharri.