Beirut, or Bayrut, the capital and largest city of Lebanon. It lies on the Mediterranean Sea near the Lebanon Mountains, about 55 miles (90 km) north of the Lebanon-Israel border. During the Lebanese civil war of 1975–90, Beirut lost its long-held position as a regional center of banking and commerce, but it has since reemerged as a leader in those fields. Four universities are here, including American University and Beirut Arab University. The city has a seaport and an international airport.
Beirut was founded in about 1500 B.C. by the Phoenicians. Throughout the centuries it has undergone many conquests and has been destroyed and rebuilt many times. Among the conquerors were Seleucids, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Crusaders, Mamelukes, and Turks. Rule passed to the French after World War I. Lebanon proclaimed its independence in 1941, with Beirut the capital. At Lebanon's request United States military forces briefly occupied Beirut in 1958 to quell internal strife.
Beirut was reduced virtually to ruins during the Lebanese civil war, fought between Muslims and Christians. In 1975, when the war broke out, the city was divided into two sectors—West Beirut (under Muslim control) and East Beirut (under Christian control). In 1982 West Beirut was invaded by Israeli forces, who attacked Palestinian strongholds there and expelled most of the Palestinians. From 1983 to 1984 an international peacekeeping force occupied West Beirut. In 1990, when the civil war ended, East and West Beirut were reuinited. Through the 1990's the city was slowly rebuilt.